Work harder, not smarter. This would seem to be the motto of the Pharisees. How much work their version of religion seems to be. All these rules, regulations and minor but time consuming ways of following what they believe to be important. They spend so much time and energy working at what really does not matter. The are working harder and harder, but they are not growing in what is truly important, namely growing in the faith.
Their work is simply for show. They appear righteous on the outside, but not on the inside, where authentic relationships with God start. In fact, they rot on the inside even while looking righteous on the outside. While they do not appear to be a mess, they indeed are.
I know, though, that I need to be careful not to think that I have moved beyond the example of the Pharisees in my own spiritual life. They can seem like those that are simply so obviously not good that it can be easy to forget that too often in my own life it can be about show, and not about a relationship with God. It can be lots of attention to the outside, with little concern for the inside.
How is it that someone knows where they stand with God? Of course, the first and most important is the degree to which we find ourselves in prayerful actions and being with God that enables us to discover the internal presence of God that can be found when we go to our rooms in private, or fast without appearing to look like we are fasting. The authentic spiritual relationship avoids righteous deeds done only in order to be seen.
Rather, it is about an interior disposition of the heart. It is about making sure that we become most attentive to the grace of God that moves in our hearts, healing our brokenness and selfishness not so that we can impress others, but rather so that we can become the persons God wishes we would be.
The focus of the Pharisees was on their image? It was most concerned about what others see and what others think. It is all about the external image. It is not about what I am really, but what others think I am. And so, today, as is true everyday, today we stand in God’s presence, being invited to make a choice. What will we do? Will I focus on my image and what others think of me, or will I seek to recognize the holy presence of God and answer the call to enter into more and more deeply into a relationship with Jesus.