Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Scribes of the Pharisees Saw, and They Said...

In the second chapter of St. Mark, we have the scribes hearing Jesus and then questioning in their hearts; then they see Jesus sitting with tax collectors and sinners, and said… I do not dislike the scribes and Pharisees; as a matter of fact, I empathize with them, for I see myself in them. Not only do I see myself in them, I see the majority of humanity in them, especially Christians. We hear, and think, questioning in our minds; we see, and we say. We do this without truly knowing the truth, nevertheless approving and disapproving as we see fit, dependent upon, many times, a relative truth inside of us. This is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were doing: reacting in accordance with what they believed to be true.

The Pharisees were “a religious sect or party within Judaism that flourished from the second century b.c. to the first century a.d. In the early first century a.d., there were over six thousand Pharisees, according to Josephus (Ant. 17.42). The name is linked to the Hebrew term meaning ‘separated ones,’ because they separated themselves from all forms of religious and ceremonial uncleanness. They were known for their strict observance of ritual piety, purity, and tithing, and for their determination to prevent the Jewish faith from being contaminated by foreign religious practices, to which end they insisted on strict separation from the Gentiles…The Pharisees were laymen, in contrast to the Sadducees, who were the priestly party. The Pharisees were allied closely to the scribes, those learned members of the community who studied and interpreted the Law. They enjoyed influence among the masses in Palestine during the NT period, but were openly contemptuous of the ‘people of the land’ who were ignorant of the Law and failed to adhere to the Pharisaic observances.

The doctrines of the Pharisees deviated from those of the Sadducees in a number of ways. The Sadducees acknowledged only the Torah as having full religious authority, whereas the Pharisees also used, in addition to the Hebrew Scriptures, oral traditions that were designed to reinforce the observance of the Law (Matt 15:2; Mark 7:5). The oral traditions served as a crucial guide in the interpretation of the Law and a protection against violations. The Pharisees believed in angels and demons and upheld the doctrines of the Resurrection and the future life, all of which were rejected by the Sadducees.”[1] They wanted to please God; they tried to be holy, and saw themselves as being head and shoulders above the average person who was just trying to survive and support their families. They probably looked down upon them, not trying to be mean but just seeing the average person as not being as holy as themselves.

Anyone that has been in the military and has been overseas knows that there are many bars outside the bases, with many young women working in them, with some giving themselves over to prostitution. Many of them were not bad; they were just trying to make a living. In some cases, their parents would send them to work in the bars because they couldn’t earn enough money to survive. In some countries, many of them are Catholics. They just do not know what else to do. Deep down, I do not believe any parent holding a beautiful little baby in their arms, nursing it to keep it alive, desires to see her/him to grow up to be a prostitute, a drunk, or a drug addict, or homeless. It is easy to disparage them; however, we do not know the circumstances of how they came to be in the state that they are in. They are fallen human beings. We should not aid their abuse; however, we should give to organizations that minister to them. If they are hungry, we should buy them food.

Why would a Jew become a tax collector? Perhaps, there were some who were just plain greedy; however, on the other hand, maybe the majority of them were attempting to support their families the best way they could. We know that prostitutes followed Jesus. Perhaps, these were among the “sinners” of which we read about in Verse 15. I don’t know who the “sinners” were comprised of. What we do see is the compassion of mercy of Jesus: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Because we are the Body of Christ, born of Him, in Him, and He in us, it is incumbent upon us to administer the same compassion and mercy. We largely do this through supporting our parishes. Which one of us is righteous? Which one of us is not sick due to sin? Which one of us is not broken, in need of healing? Which one of us do not desire that Christ eat with us, feeding us His Word and His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist? Which one of us does not need the Catholic Church? Which one of us does not need to be made holy by God, through the Catholic Church?

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw Jesus sitting and eating with tax collectors and sinners, they said, “Why,” accusing Jesus. Due to concupiscence, we are scribes and Pharisees at heart; however, because of the grace of God given to us through the Sacraments, we have compassion and mercy, saying with Jesus, our Head, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners [of which we are chief].” May God have mercy upon us, bless us, and keep us. Amen.

--Tommy Turner
Ant. Jewish Antiquities [1] Scott Hahn, Ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, 2009, 703–704.