St. Augustine, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3,14-17 + Matthew 23:23-26
August 28, 2018
“Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup….”
In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus rather harshly commanding that exterior and interior religious practices be integrated. The right way in which to integrate them is to put first things first: that is, to tend first to the inner dispositions of the soul, and then from the soul’s strength to practice virtuous acts.
Jesus condemns the “blind Pharisee” who appears clean on the outside, but inside is full of plunder and self-indulgence. His actions may appear virtuous, but they are not. They are deeds that may have good effects. But these actions worsen a division in the soul of the one who carries them out.
Similarly, Jesus’ first condemnation here—of the scribes and Pharisees—concerns a different form of “dis-integration”. These “hypocrites” are doing certain good works, but not the works that are far better and more central to a life given to God. This dis-integration suggests that even the good works are being done for bad reasons.
Jesus doesn’t condemn the scribes and Pharisees for tithing: indeed, He says they should have tithed. But He uses a purposefully ridiculous metaphor to describe what they’re doing: they are straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel! The latter part of the metaphor ought to remind us of another quote from Jesus: “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”