The Pharisees’ Pride

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) Malachi 1:14–2:2, 8-10; Psalms 131:1, 2, 3; First Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12 This series appears each Wednesday.

Photography © by Andy Coan

A hundred and fifty years before Christ, they were the good guys.  The Greeks were in charge and decided that, if they were to unify their kingdom politically, they needed to unify it religiously.  So they imposed Greek ways on the Jews, including worshiping idols and eating pork.  You can read about the Jew’s military resistance to this tyranny in the two books of Maccabees.

In these same books, you can read about the spiritual resistance of pious laymen who stood up for the Law and the traditions of the Rabbis, who sought to preserve the faith of Israel and live it with passion.  The members of this renewal movement became known as the Pharisees.

Yet obviously something went terribly wrong with God’s champions.  Because just a few generations later, when the Son of God appeared in their midst, they rejected Him.  How did it happen?  They succumbed to an insidious disease that they didn’t even know they had.

Today, there are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like this.  One of them, HTV, is a virus that has no symptoms at all.  A woman often does not know that she has it . . . until, that is, she is diagnosed with deadly cervical cancer.

The Pharisees would have wagged their fingers at such women, as they did at the woman caught in adultery (John 8).  “Serves them right – the wages of sin is death!”

Fornication and adultery are serious sins indeed.  In fact, they are expressions of one of the seven capital sins – lust.  Many assume that lust is considered by Christianity to be the epitome of sin, the worst possible vice.  Actually, in the hierarchy (or should I say “lowerarchy”) of capital sins, the king-pin and most deadly of the seven sins is not lust but pride.  Lust wrongly seeks sexual pleasure apart from love and life.  Pride seeks greatness apart from God.  The tricky thing is that pride can often start in the course of promoting God’s greatness.

Here’s how it works – as people begin applauding as you do God’s work, you think they are applauding for you.  It’s a rather pitiful mistake really.  Imagine the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem thinking that the crowd had turned out for him!

Such applause, however, can be addicting.  The proud person ultimately will do anything to make the ovation happen and keep it going.  But there can only be one star.  Pride is essentially competitive.  So anyone who threatens to steal the show becomes a mortal enemy.  Even if he happens to be God.

The proud man does not teach to enlighten, but rather to pontificate, to impress, to appear as the authority.  So the Pharisees laid heavy moral burdens upon the shoulders of the people without lifting a finger to help them (Mat 23:4).  They coveted the title of “teacher” (that’s what “rabbi” means) and “father” (teachers in the ancient world were regarded as spiritual fathers), but really did not want the responsibility.

When Jesus says to avoid being called teacher and father, he wasn’t talking about what titles educators and parents should and shouldn’t use.  He was talking about an attitude.  Humble persons realize that all wisdom and teaching comes from God, even if God happens to be instructing others through their mouths.  They know that the applause ultimately is for Him, and they are glad to redirect it back to Him as Mary does when she is praised by her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1: 42-55).

Pride is deadly because it is so insidious.  The further the disease progresses, the blinder the victim becomes until it is nearly impossible for him to recognize his plight.  The strutting and posturing of the proud are nothing more than compensation for their own insecurity.  The pathetic emperor cannot see what is perfectly plain to everyone else–namely, that he has no clothes.

The humble person, on the other hand, is secure in the love of God and therefore has no need of pomp and circumstance.  He is not afraid to look at his own littleness, for He clearly sees the greatness of a God who is not a competitor, but a loving Father.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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