An older priest, who worked in Hispanic ministry, once told me of the frustration he was having because of the various storefront churches springing up in the area. Non-denominational ministers would buy an old building, call it a 'catholic church,' place statues of Mary and Jesus in a window, dress up in clerics, and begin their own religious group, drawing in various elements of Catholicism. The Hispanics would often, unaware of the difference, go to these places for the sacraments and worship on Sundays. He had a difficult time expounding the difference between the Catholic Church in which they were gathered together in, those places that pretend to be 'Catholic.'
Today the Gospel wants us to understand the difference between authentic and 'pretend' faith. The Pharisees have a legitimate place and have received their role as teachers in proper order, but their lifestyle contradict the covenant teachings that they are to convey to the people. While they are saying the right words they act in order to be seen and respected. In all of the Gospels this is a common theme that we will run up against again and again. If we profess faith, and commit ourselves to discipleship, then we have to apply that same to our response to situations in daily life.
The other day a potential bride called and asked about marriage in our church. She had commented that she really liked our church. I did not ask, but had to wonder, does she like our prayer liturgies, our ministry to the sick and the home-bound, St. Vincent De Paul Society, RCIA program, or is it the stained glass windows and long aisle. Sadly I suspect that it is the latter.
Again it is no mistake that Jesus washes the feet of the apostles prior to the last supper. Service is an integral part of Discipleship. St. Paul alludes the image of a nursing mother who nurtures her child completely with her whole body. Now we are not going to Central America, or the inner-city, to do ministry, but our proclamation of faith needs to be manifested in charity, mercy, and forgiveness. When the need arises we are willing to serve one another as Christ served those he encountered.
Our faith is not about 'pretend' or dressing the part. It is about making our lives a commitment to the truth and seeking justice and peace. People should know Jesus when they encounter us. We respond in the way the Teacher has shown us.