St John of Damascus reminds us that the Pharisees were, literally, ‘men set apart’ who followed a way of life which they regarded as the most perfect; their way was superior to all other ways. They affirmed the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels and holiness of life; they were ascetics and were celibate for long periods of time; they fasted at least twice a week; they ritually cleansed their pots, plates and cups, and they tithed; they lived according to the highest standards of the Law.
But, as Jesus saw, although they said they followed the law of God, their heart was very far from Him; their words and their hearts were not in alignment, St Clement of Rome points out. But, as Clement of Alexandria points out, their traditions contradicted those of Moses. They mixed water with their wine, and they added extra burdens onto the people.
By observing the outward formalities, the Pharisees forgot that the Law is underpinned by love, and in not having love, they transgressed the law, Tertullian points out. The venerable Bede adds that evil thoughts come from within, from our will, and we should not blame them on the devil. He can inflame our bad thoughts and passions, but he cannot create them.
As we are now back with St Mark, and our usual absence of Patristic commentaries, I add one from our diocesan website – just follow the link.