Jesus frequently laments the Pharisees’ legalistic worldview and the grief they cause their flock. Perhaps well meaning, perhaps not, the Pharisees strike me as tormented and insecure as they cautiously live in fear of human imperfection. Out of compulsion, they worship a false God of fire and brimstone, tit for tat, and simple rules with straightforward penalties. In other words, they worship themselves; and if we care to admit it, they are often us.
As we seek God’s kingdom through racial justice in our daily choices or landmark decisions, we are tempted by the ancient call of the Pharisees that offers us smallness, anxiety, and reaching for some mediocre ideal—for example, remembering to suppress offensive comments. This exhausting way of life will be adopted by many because it’s “good enough,” but in the silence of reflection, God is heard, and the emptiness becomes glaring. We can seek ways to temporarily ignore the feeling that something isn’t right or we can listen to His call.
Jesus offers the admittedly messier path. Our way may not be His. “Progress” is vague. Discomfort is essential. Mistakes will be made. Yet He pledges His help and still invites us to heal our broken world, our relationship with Him, and, by extension, ourselves. All have a sacred part to play and presumptions that you have advanced beyond prejudice, are too stuck in your ways, or are too much of a sinner are poor excuses. Rather, humbly walk with God and His entire people, and you’ll find your existence become enriching instead of consuming. Because though at times challenging, His way is always life-giving as He teaches us with role models (canonized or not) and sustains us with grace.
Henoch Derbew, nSJ, is a second year Jesuit novice currently serving at Washington Jesuit Academy in DC.