Wow, the Pharisees do not come off looking too good at all today. Jesus is letting them have it. If he isn't giving them a hard time for the way they dress, then he is lambasting their manners with their neighbors. If he isn't criticizing their study habits, then he is condemning their finger pointing. If he isn't accusing them of spiritual malpractice, then he is decrying their hypocrisy.
I sure am glad that I am NOTHING like those Pharisees.
Well, most of the time.
OK, some of the time.
Now that I think about it, there are many times in my life when I was envious of someone's fine clothing, of their apparent place of esteem, or of their perceived importance. Or, worse, when I was contemptuous of the same. To be honest, there are any number of times that I have committed the sins that Jesus is pointing out in "them" and many more times when I have rejoiced in the fact that I am better than they are.
Better than they are. There I go again.
Pharisees were just trying to attain and keep themselves in alignment with Torah while living in a world that was just teeming with pollution. They set up codes that would prevent them from stumbling. Simple enough, right? But when we look at them through the lens that Jesus provides, then they come of as more than a little "arch" in their choices. They wind up spending more time worrying about purity than connection to others. They expend more effort to prevent pollution than they do confronting corruption. In overemphasizing their interpretation of holiness, they have lost touch with the holy. In trying to clean up religion, they have forgotten that it is, really, a very dirty business.
The kind of practice that Jesus is calling us into in fact requires us to get out hands dirty. It asks of us a willingness to venture into places, and into contact with people, who are not all that holy or desirable to be around. When Jesus sits down with tax collectors and sinners, he is showing us a model of life that says, "Go out, connect with everyone...and then find ways to exclaim peace and justice in places that need those fruits of the spirit."
A dear friend's father, who was an Episcopal Priest, once told her (when things in the parish they were serving were particularly dire) that the Church was a hospital for sinners, not a clubhouse for saints. I am sure that sounds as scandalous to some of us as it did to the parish he was serving at the time. It reminds us, starkly, that too often it is too easy to get caught up in Pharisaic folderol. Yes, it is important to have things squared away and proper...but it is not excusable when purity begins to outweigh mercy, or when we forget that God loves us completely and not conditionally.
May God give us clear eyes to see the world as God does...and, break us from our own pride and vainglory.