"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faith. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!…” (Mt 23: 23-24)

The teachers of the law and Pharisees were very orthodox about fulfilling certain external religious obligations, while neglecting the virtues that these obligations were meant to foster: justice, mercy, and faith. The Lord is criticizing them for embracing this external Orthodoxy, which self-righteously displayed such fidelity to secondary rules and regulations, while missing their whole point.

Reading this passage today, I am reminded to beware of a purely-external Orthodoxy, which clings to secondary issues, while neglecting “the more important matters,” upon which the Lord Himself insists: justice, mercy, and faith. I do, indeed, gratefully embrace certain external forms and practices of my Tradition. But these external forms and practices do not, in and of themselves, fulfill Christ’s call to me. He is calling me to be filled with the Spirit of these practices, without Whom my external piety is meaningless. Christ did not come, die on the Cross, and rise again, to replace one set of external rules and regulations with another set of external rules and regulations. He came to fill us with His Spirit.

So let me seek His Spirit today, in heartfelt prayer, and ask to be filled with His gifts, of justice, mercy, and faith. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me.” (Ps 50/51: 10)

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