In today’s Gospel reading, we find Jesus highlighting the importance of the inner and exterior lives. We must not be divided within ourselves, for a house divided against itself cannot stand. Outward observance and appearance of piety mean nothing if not consistent with one’s heart set toward God.
Here Jesus affirms the teaching authority of the Pharisees. This is perhaps striking in some ways for we often think of the Pharisees as the enemies of Christ. Such a thought is not entirely wrong. However, Jesus does recognize what we would understand as an ecclesiastical structure in the Judaism of His time. The Lord refers to the seat of Moses, by which the Pharisees could speak and teach authoritatively on the Torah. This prefigures the Chair of Peter, by which the successors of Peter (the Popes) teach and speak authoritatively on matters of faith and morals for all Christians. Much like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, no pope can be above what he taught in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of any who claim to take up discipleship but do not actually do what He said to do.
One of the most essential elements of discipleship is humility. To learn from someone, we must admit to ourselves that they know more than we do about a particular subject. If I wanted to be a master carpenter, I would first need to apprentice myself under a master carpenter. I would need to humble myself and be willing to have this person teach me. I would need to be willing to cast out previous assumptions I had made about carpentry. I would have to trust that the master carpenter could see and understand things I did not, and I hope that I would one day have the same insight. I would ultimately need to trust the master to which I was apprenticing. That he would not lead me astray, teach me wrong techniques, and the like.
Similarly, Jesus tells us to follow Him. And if we would follow Him, so that we would one day join Him in glory, we must humble ourselves. We must admit that we really don’t know much, and what we know can be very muddled and get confused in our minds. We must admit we do not know the way to heaven, we need help. We cannot get there on our own any more than I can become a master carpenter without any training.
Jesus teaches us that we must recognize the latent shortcomings within our own nature. We get out of alignment between our interior and exterior lives. Just like the Pharisees, it is easy for us to love and seek the recognition and approval of our fellow man, even as we truly loathe them (or most of them) inside. We need to recognize the noble lies we tell ourselves in the recesses of our own minds, to confess our secret thoughts to God (who knows them anyway), and come clean entirely. These divisions within ourselves are ultimately destructive to our spiritual and physical lives. The truth always comes out in the end.