Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Priggish Pharisee

A PHARISEE WAS A MEMBER OF an ancient Jewish group which taught a rather strict or narrow observance of Jewish traditions. They believed in life after death and looked for the coming of the Messiah. When we read the Gospels we notice that Jesus frequently found himself opposed by Pharisees.

In this Gospel account (Luke 18: 9-14) Jesus tells us about a Pharisee who was so pleased with himself and his religious observances. He stood in the front of the great temple in Jerusalem and reminded God of all the holy things he'd been doing lately: "I fast two days in the week; I pay tithes on everything I get."

He even thanked God that he wasn't like other people: "O God, I thank you that I am not like other men, greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or like that tax-collector." The tax man was standing behind him with his eyes down, telling God how sorry he was that he was a sinner.

The Pharisee saw the world and people in black and white. Like the picture here: You're right if you agree with me. You're wrong if you disagree with me. There are lots of people like this in the world. When religious people call themselves orthodox, which means right teaching, it means everyone else is heterodox, which of course means wrong teaching. This is how wars start.

I was very interested recently in a religious blog that offered a course called Catholic Bible 101. But I quickly discovered that the blog used the scriptures as a weapon, a tool for arguing, a kind of club to defend Church dogmas and the acceptable sexual morality. Where are the blogs that simply invite people into the mystery of Jesus, the joy of Jesus, the beauty of Jesus, the poetry of Jesus and even the fun of Jesus and his household.

A prig is a person who adheres smugly or unthinkingly to rigid standards of propriety or morality. Prigs are often religious people - like this arrogant man in the front of the temple. In fact, this Pharisee-man has a bad case of priggery. He doesn't love God, but only the idea of himself as pleasing to God. He thinks so highly of himself he has placed everyone in categories and thinks of the tax collector as the lowest of the low. 

Jesus doesn't' allow priggery. He tells us the story so we'll see ourselves and cut it out. No one is exempt. Pope Francis speaks about this a lot. He's told the Cardinals to "Stop acting like princes." He told the priests to get out of the sanctuary and to be with the people - closely. This Jesus story is an invitation to very practical gospel living.

We might remember this the next time we find ourselves making assessments about other people and how their families are formed. We might remember this the next time we're in one of the stores where a special needs person gives us our wagon or when we're tempted to just leave that empty supermarket wagon anywhere in the parking lot, thinking, "What's the big deal, it's someone's job to collect them anyway."


  1. What wonderful advice Father. I know something that helps me when im out at the stores and I run into a disgruntled worker or feel myself losing patience while waiting in line, I will stop and say a Hail Mary. Also I once heard Joel Osteen say "Always do the right thing- you never know who may be watching.". This is so true you could be setting a good example for someone. I know I made a promise that so long as I was blessed with 2 working legs I will always return the cart.

  2. There's lots of simple ways to help the people who have low-end jobs. Ever see inside a hotel room that others have trashed? We don't have to empty the garbage can and make the bed but we can leave the bathroom tidied up. Pick up an apple or orange that's fallen to the floor in the supermarket. Put aside a crate that has a cracked egg. Help with the bagging. The folks who work in supermarkets have to cope with more than an occasional rotten tomato or soured milk.

  3. There are so many little gestures we can do to help make the lives of other people that much easier. There is a movie called Pay if Forward in which if someone did a good deed for someone else, the only thing they asked in return was that the person then in turn do something nice for someone else and ask them to pay it forward. To be nice and kind for no reason at all, just because it is the right thing to do. Not to pass judgment or to think less of people because of their jobs or their clothes or their perceived status. We would be living in a much nicer world. Let us be more like the humble tax payer. God forgive us.

  4. Thank you Father Morris for these insightful stories. I enjoy reading your blog very much.
    I am a believer of random acts of kindness. We can all do little things everyday to help one another. It is the will to want to do them.

  5. I also enjoy reading your blog. Mostly because you teach us things in ways that are not only interesting, but also understandable. In laymen's terms so to speak. I don't get caught up in trying to understand the message. it is just laid out there for anyone who will take the time to read it. So many things that I read by religious are so high and mighty that I find my thoughts wandering and I lose focus. Not here. I look forward to what I am going to learn next.

    1. Christianity isn't a religion for a classroom. You shouldn't need a degree or to have mastered a special theological language to understand Christianity. One Catholic blogger says you have to understand metaphysics to understand Catholic Christianity.