In the Gospel reading this weekend at Mass, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being hypocrites. He listed many of their two-faced behaviors, and summed it up by saying that they don’t practice what they preach.
However, Jesus added a very surprising comment. He said that although the Pharisees were selfish hypocrites, they held positions of authority and therefore the people must “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He offered his most stinging rebukes to the Pharisees. He called them white-washed tombs, a brood of vipers, blind guides, and hypocrites. You would think if the Pharisees were that corrupt, Jesus would’ve told the crowds to ignore them and follow some other religious leaders. Instead, Jesus acknowledged that they were the rightful religious authorities and the people must obey their instructions.
A similar situation exists today. Far too many people refuse to go to church anymore because they don’t like the priest or minister. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of grumbling and excuses. “He’s too boring.” “He’s too fanatical.” “His homilies are too long.” “His homilies are too short.” “He’s too old.” “He’s too young.” Blah, blah, blah.
I’m convinced that even if Jesus Himself returned to pastor one of our churches, there would be plenty of pious Christians complaining behind His back. “His hair is too long.” “He talks funny.” “He’s too weird.” “He spends way too much time talking to that trampy-looking divorced woman.”
The point Jesus was trying to make about the Pharisees—and the point we must understand within our own faith communities—is that church leaders are not the church. Church is not some kind of show starring Reverend So-and-So. We do not gather each Sunday morning to be entertained.
If you go to a concert and don’t like the singer, then obviously you shouldn’t buy tickets to see that performer again. But church is different. The priest or preacher is not a performer. This ain’t show biz. He’s the leader of a community worship service.
When it comes to practicing our faith, God is the main attraction, and the clergy merely help facilitate the event. God is the sole reason we go to church. We gather each week as a community of faith to give glory and honor to our Creator and to live our lives according to His plan.
Not going to church because you don’t particularly care for the pastor is like refusing to go to a Worlds Series game because you don’t like the guy who sells the hot dogs.
If Jesus told the people to fulfill their religious duties even though those flaming hypocrite Pharisees were the official leaders, then there’s absolutely no excuse for us to skip church over petty personality reasons.
Are there hypocrites in leadership positions in today’s church? Yup. There are also liars, thieves, and New York Yankees fans. Welcome to reality. As long as we live in a sinful world, our religious organizations will be staffed by sinful people, similar to our places of work and the other organizations we belong to.
Certainly, I’m not suggesting that the clergy can do whatever they want and we should just sit there and ignore it. When someone abuses his authority and inflicts physical, emotional, or financial harm on others, that’s a different story. But let’s not exaggerate; the ones who do this are few and far between.
If we would spend more time focusing on the true purpose of church—honoring and worshipping God—and less time bad-mouthing our religious leaders, then our faith communities would be more vibrant and loving, not to mention more attractive to those lost souls who need to find the Lord.