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Friday, October 28, 2011


          (Matthew 23: 1-12)


         The Scribes and the Pharisees were the masters of the law during the time of Jesus, being given the task of preserving and proclaiming the Ten Commandments.  Although they were in conflict with Jesus, they rose to the height of their power after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.  When the Temple of Jerusalem was razed to the ground by the Romans, the Pharisees took over the religious authority of the Jews.  The community of St. Matthew directly experienced the tension between the Church and the Pharisees.
          It was the obligation of the Pharisees to teach the Jews reverence to God having received their power from the prophets, hence their teaching was valid and binding.  Not all Pharisees were evil, but most were especially those who took advantage of their power for their selfish and personal gains. 
Lord Acton once said:   "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Because the Pharisees believed to hold absolute power, they were corrupted by their own power, absolutely.  This fact is posited by William Pitt who said "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."
Historically, the Pharisees have long been gone but Pharisaism remains creeping amongst us, not just among religious leaders but to those who may hold power in any form.  When Pilate claimed that he had power over Jesus during the trial, Jesus reminded him: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11).  So how do we see power?  Power is always a gift and with that gift is authority and with that authority is responsibility.  Peter Parker also known as Spiderman once said: "With great power comes great responsibility."  True enough, the gift of the power which was not handled responsibly by the Pharisees became their curse.
A president of a nation, a bishop of a diocese, a priest in a parish, a CEO of a company, a superior of religious congregation, parents of a family, a principal of a school, a teacher in a classroom, a manager or supervisor in an office:  they all have powers over their constituents.  Unless they see their power in the context of service to others, that power will corrupt them, in one way or another.  As a parish priest, I am aware that I can only exercise my power and authority over my parishioners if I see myself not as a boss but as their servant.  The power entrusted unto us is not about us.  It is only for a limited time, no matter how much we want to hold unto it, it will be taken away from us, sooner or later.  It is meant for others.
When we look unto ourselves and find out that a Pharisee is lurking in the deep recesses of our consciousness, let us befriend and tame him.  As Jesus reminds his disciples: “You must therefore do and observe what he tells you; but do not be guided by what he does”        (Mt. 23:3).
The secret of greatness in the eyes of God lies in serving others:  “The greatest among you must be your servant” (Mt. 23:11).


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