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How to correct someone … without being like a Pharisee

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Shutterstock | fizkes
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This is not easy to do, but possible… and sometimes necessary.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over,” says Matthew 18:15. How can you follow this biblical command without offending your loved ones and avoid being accused of pontificating?

No one wishes to be accused of lecturing or being judgmental. These are the people who are always convinced that they’re better than everyone, who show no compassion for sinners, and are incapable of adapting to social change. Behind their preaching, they seem to hide some unhealthy inhibitions or participation in some scandals or crime. But how else can we challenge the behavior of our loved ones, without being accused of being a modern day Pharisee.

Don’t be a Pharisee

The paradox lies in the fact that in Judaism, the Pharisaic reaction was healthy – a return to the purity of Torah teachings at the time when Greco-Roman paganism was spreading its political and cultural power over the Middle East. They resisted the stranglehold of the Maccabean descendants over the Temple, since they were not of the sacred line. Pharisees were “separated” (this is without a doubt the meaning of the word that designates them) — they were adamantly opposed to this dishonorable behavior.

Their influence was great, especially among the common people. Their constant study of the Bible gave them the moral and religious high ground; as “doctors of the Law” they presided in the Sanhedrin. In the times of Jesus, they were the religious zealots of the nation. In the evocations of his youth, the apostle Paul attested to this religious fervor (Ph 3:6). But the dark side behind this religious sentiment, consisted in the hardening of the heart: the spiritual pride, the primacy of ritual over the deep belief, the contempt for “this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them” (John 7:49), which led them to reject the new Gospel. Hence, we should not be Pharisaic. 

But there is then a danger that we might succumb to the opposite tendency – relativism. It is a penchant of tolerating just about everything without ever offering any judgment of word or deed. So in an unexpected reversal, conscience changes sides! We could try elaborating a morality based on circumstance, create our own personal religion, and feel disdain for all those who are trying to “defend their principles” or “the principles of the Church,” because we basically assume that God has no principles! We might even have the impression that we are on the side of the Gospels –didn’t Jesus teach us about compassion? Wasn’t it he who said: “Don’t judge (Matt 7:1)? 

Dare to tell the truth while being sensitive 

Be merciful to everyone, but not for everything. Don’t judge your brother, but point out his fault (Matt 18:15). Jesus’ mercy is not complicit. He loves the worst of sinners but He loathes the sin. We tend to forget a little too quickly the violence with wish he cleansed the Temple (John 2:13-16). We rarely repeat His terrifying threats concerning the scandal (Luke 17:1).

Should we be liberal, tolerant and open? These new values can hide a form of neo-moralism that can quash all questioning. It takes a lot of self-assurance to dare to put a grain of sand into this mechanism and some courage to not side with or remain silent in the face of morals and laws which are more and more intolerant.

Alain Bandelier

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