Seated with Moses

Christian preachers have to be nervous as they go at today’s Gospel reading, about how Pharisees behaved badly, because it might strike too closely to home for them.

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  [So] do . . . [what] they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’

Unless we think the Pharisaic impulse died with first-century Pharisees, that is.

It’s an excellent passage for a clergyman’s retreat, to be sure, but what of us lay people?

This, I think: We don’t believe and practice what we believe because Rev. or Fr. (or Rabbi, for that matter) So&So says so, do we?  If not, why do we believe?  Damn interesting question, if you’ll pardon the word.  Not damning, however, of us or the clergy.  Most of us do what we can.  Divine Providence enters in.  Somehow we believe, a lot of clergy doing their part.

But in a time of heavy criticism of clergy, especially Catholic, it’s good to remind ourselves that sitting on the chair of Moses or holding a pulpit or heading a parish by sufferance of a bishop means one can do good somehow.  And one does.  But we in the pews can do with a reminder that the sitter or pulpit-holder or pastor need not interfere: the pew-sitter ought not be distracted by him or her if tempted in that direction.

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