The Gospel is from the Gospel of Matthew 23:1-12. As this picture of the Pharisees is painted by none other than Christ himself, we can have no doubt but that the description given is the truth and nothing but the truth. In spite of their great knowledge of "the law and the prophets"—the divine revelation God had given to the Chosen People—and of their many strict observances of that law, they were not pleasing to God. All their good works and all their learning were spoiled by the vice of pride which made them seek earthly glory for themselves and prevented them from giving glory or thanks to God. Their religion was an empty external cloak which they used to attract attention and honor to themselves. Internally, they were so full of their own importance that there was no room for God in their hearts.
Our divine Lord warned his disciples, and through them all of us, to avoid that pernicious vice of pride. It should not be hard for any true Christian to avoid this vice. We know that every material and spiritual talent we have has been given us by God, so we must give glory to God for any gifts we possess and not to ourselves. St. Paul reminds us of this fact when he asks us: "What have you that you have not received, and if you have received it why glory in it as if it were your own?" We owe everything we have to God and we should use all the gifts he has given us for his honor and glory, and for that purpose alone.
Do we always do this? Are we never tempted to look down on our less fortunate brothers? If we have got on well in our temporal affairs do we attribute our success to our own skill and hard work or do we thank God for the opportunities he gave to us and not to others. If, aided by God's grace, we are keeping his commandments, do we show contempt for those who give in to temptations which we did not have to meet? The best of us can profit from an examination of conscience along these lines. If our external observance of the Christian rule of life is motivated solely by love and gratitude to God all is well. But if our hearts are far from God and our motives in our religious behavior is self-glorification, we are in a dangerous position. The sinners and harlots of Christ's day repented and were received into his kingdom; the Pharisees, unable to repent, were left outside.
Excerpted from The Sunday Readings by Fr. Kevin O'Sullivan, O.F.M.