The Narcissism of Modern Pharisees | Gospel Reflection

by Catholic Bible Studies And Reflections, Gospels, Leadership

“This is the end which befalls evildoers. And in this life scoundrels always receive their just deserts!” – Don Giovanni, Mozart

If Don Giovanni had paused for just a moment during his quest for pleasure and realized how empty his life was, he would have had no choice but to fall into the abyss he had dug himself with shovel of his deceits.

For Kierkegaard, Mozart’s Don Giovanni was the symbol of seduction and of the man that achieved nothing in life. It was the symbol of a self-centered life, sunken into the void of delighting in one’s own image without ever finding a reason to live.

To tell the truth, I have the impression that the number of serial seducers is growing exponentially. Our culture pushes us into a whirlpool of empty aesthetics, where life is lived in the moment, like the flash of a photograph, always taking a selfie – that is, always alone with oneself.

I think we can say that the Scribes and Pharisees, as Jesus depicts them in this Gospel passage and in many others, were the forefathers of the modern seducers. This Gospel invites us to stay far away from those who want to be alone in the center of their relationships.

Like all seducers, the Scribes and Pharisees say, but do not do. The seducer only seeks relationships so that he can take what he wants, without ever being satisfied. The seducer is inconsistent – he is false – because deeds never follow his words, his promises, or his reassurances. His vows are lost to a future that never becomes the present.

Like all seducers, the Scribes and Pharisees ask the other person to carry the weight of the relationship. They always give the burden of a sense of guilt to the other person, twisting reality so that they can play the victim.  The seducers know how to turn the tables on everyone and, in the end, are never the guilty ones.

Like all seducers, the Scribes and Pharisees feed off of the gaze of others. They always want to be the center of attention. Their problems are always the most urgent. Their demands are always the most noble. They use others to feel recognized while others must gratify and approve of them. When someone is able to escape from this game, the seducer becomes violent and seeks a way to destroy the person who shows him the unbearable truth of reality.

Like all seducers, the Scribes and Pharisees want the place of honor in their relationships; everything must be about them. Other people are just acting out the scripts they write in their heads, never protagonists of their own lives.

Gospel Reflection

Jesus concludes his speech about seduction with a provocation: he speaks of fathers and masters, letting it be understood that those who demand these titles can most easily seduce. In fact, the seducer will deceive you with his teachings. He wants to become your guru, giving you advice and trying to show you the right way to go. The same goes for the father: the seducer pretends to care for the victim up until the point of confusing the father with the master.

Very often, the logic of the world is the logic of seduction. Perhaps we are not serial seducers like Don Giovanni, but I think each one of us could identify something of the attitudes of the Scribes and Pharisees in our own behavior.

But Jesus proposes a different logic, a logic that you can only understand if you are willing to turn your own way of thinking on end: you become great when you become the servant of others, you become worthy when you are able to renounce even your fair share of acknowledgment.

These words of Jesus overcome that aesthetic mode of living, that way of life that goes nowhere, that self-seeking quest that leaves us empty and sooner or later comes back to bite us, showing us the abyss we have dug under our own feet.

The way of life that Jesus proposes to us allows us to build our home upon the rock of meaning, to build on a reason to live, and to find someone that it is worth living for.

We can give meaning to life only if we are willing to lower ourselves when others need to climb on our backs and only if we are willing to make ourselves small when the gate is narrow.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • If you look at your relationships, do you see yourself more as a seducer or a victim?
  • Are you able to identify for whom or for what you are living your life?

Gospel of Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Gospel of the Lord

Photo credit: ANGELA FRANKLIN, unsplash

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