Religion, Pharisees, and the Genuine Well-Being of Man

da Vinci "Head of a Pharisee"
da Vinci “Head of a Pharisee”
“Who among you, if your son falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out”—no matter what day it is? (see Luke 14:5)

Pretty safe to say: We would. If we lived in a place where there were a lot of cisterns for our sons to be falling into. And we would pull our oxen out, too—if we had oxen.

We wouldn’t say to ourselves, “Lordy, it’s the Sabbath! That ox of mine, that son of mine will just have to wait in that cistern ‘till tomorrow. If he drowns? Well, can’t be helped.”

No. We would rescue. Because sons, and even oxen, and other capital investments, pertain to something that takes priority: the genuine well-being of man.

The genuine well-being of man takes absolute priority. It must be the center of religion. Because God—Whom we worship by our religion, Whom we obey by our religion—He wills the genuine well-being of man above all. He made the constellations, and the mountains, and the rainbows, and the chickens, and the dogs, for one reason: to delight us.

I don’t think we can doubt that Jesus was mocking the Pharisees and scholars in His exchange with them about healing on the sabbath. You guys are utterly ridiculous to turn religion into something that thwarts the well-being of man! That is absolutely backwards and ludicrous.

Maybe this is the key to untying a particular knot, when it comes to interpreting the Lord Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees.

We see and hear Him mocking, criticizing, excoriating the Pharisees and scribes for their ‘traditionalism.’ But Christ Himself embraced tradition with unswerving fidelity: He insisted on the Ten Commandments, on the Passover observances, on the authority of the entire Law and Prophets.

“Pharisaism” does not equal ‘traditionalism,’ simply put. Pharisaism, in the bad sense, is: Religion that thwarts the genuine well-being of man. Religion that thwarts the genuine well-being of man is actually a form of irreligion, a form of self-worship, of idolatry, of paganism.

Now, don’t give me credit for this insight, brilliant as it may be. The idea that religion must serve the genuine well-being of man is the heart of the ministry of the Vatican II popes, namely Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.

(Not to mention the ministry of a lot of other people, too, like: Pope Pius XII, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Leo XIII, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Peter, St. Paul…)


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