Do you feel that you are dating someone who strikes you as having an overly high moral, education or even cultural standard? Do you feel like your every action is being observed? Is the person overly critical of you? Are they quick to find fault in you but not in themselves? Do they make you feel like your level of religious practice or approach to life is not on par with theirs? Do you get the impression your past sins are interpreted as who you really are now?
If you answered yes to any of these, then you might be dating a Pharisee.
The Pharisees of Jesus' time were elders/authorities of the Jewish community who imposed a strictness on living out the letter of the law down to the smallest detail. They did not practice what they preached. It was a hypocrisy that Jesus had no toleration for.
In fact, Jesus presented a chilling parable the depicts a Pharisee and a tax collector in the Temple praying. The Pharisee boldly says “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Then the simple tax collector stayed at a distance and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus says that the tax collector, who was humble, went home justified and the Pharisee, who was self-righteous, did not.
A bit too harsh of Jesus? Not at all. Jesus is not impressed with those who are confident their favor with God while they look down on others and are quick to judge. How bold for the Pharisee to point to the tax collector in the Temple and tell God he is glad he is not like him, assuming the tax collector’s hypocrisy when it was really he who was the hypocrite.
But it should make us all tremble because there is a little bit of Pharisee in all of us that has to constantly be recognized and worked on. We hold others up to very high standards, and even recoil when someone falls short of those expectations (maybe even cut someone off for their failure). Yet, we have an incredible capacity for justifying our own actions, and even blinding ourselves to the hypocritical approach to life we lead.
This does not bode well for building successful relationships with others. How can another person live up to all our expectations? And if they cannot, does that mean that they are unworthy of our friendship or our love? There is no doubt that there are actions, behaviors, sins, etc., that are technically deal breakers for the relationship. But there are many great relationships made up of two basically good people. People have a past, or problems, or capabilities that infiltrate the relationship at times and cause the couple to question the sustainability of their relationship.
This is where the Pharisee in us can creep in and cause the most problems. When trouble arises, no matter how grave it is, we focus on what the other has done. We hold that person up against the strictest of rules and judge them accordingly. This cannot help but produce the "How could you?" question, which stems from the deep feeling of hurt inside.
It is at this point that it is critical to begin asking yourself questions like "Am I capable of doing such a thing?" or "Did I do something to contribute to this?", and the like. Without an introspection component to a troubled time in a relationship, the Pharisee in us will take over, imposing its stringent (and often cruel) position on the offending party.
At the same time, the offending party might believe they are the offended party, causing a defensiveness. The result is that two Pharisees emerge, taking over the situation in such a way that resolve is impossible. Both Pharisees need to be extinguished before there can be a resolution. Both parties have to look at themselves for how they might have contributed to this problem or consider how they will need to be compassionate to the other. This is what the Lord meant when He preached to get the beam out of your own eye before you try to remove the plank from the other's eye.
That description is very significant. It implies that we are always the worse party involved. This implies two things: 1) Neither of you should be so anxious about how much wrong the other has done and 2) it is not your job to fix the other person.
The Pharisee in us is a tyrant that desires to control the other person, while making excuses for ourselves. We want the other person to live up to our every expectation without that person attempting to impose any kind of expectations on us. The more we express the Pharisee in us, the more conditioned we are to be utterly blinded by our own thoughts and actions that are harmful.
I have heard about relationship problems for years. In almost all cases, the problem is that the person is a Pharisee or the person they are dating is. So many relationship problems are problems of the individuals. For example, a Pharisee is dating someone who has a lived a lie. The Pharisee knows that deception is wrong and a grave sin, and presses that person to explain their past and justify it. The Pharisee goes as far as to feel so offended by this perfectly wonderful, repented person's past that he/she ends the relationship. Perhaps he/she ends it because the Pharisee believes that once a deceiver, always a deceiver. Yet, the Pharisee has a track record of deception as well that has been justified as not being the same thing, or maybe denying it all together, thus living a life of self-deception.
The opposite of a Pharisee is humility. In humility, there is always self recognition rather than self-deception. There is always a readiness to forgive because you have been forgiven. There is always a commitment to forgetting the person’s past and embracing them now. There is always a realization that others are better than you because you have sinned much worse than others. And there is always a desire to first be merciful, especially if someone is sorry, because mercy is at the heart of love, which is the heart of Christ.
Dating couples need to work at making the other feel relaxed and themselves so that authentic love has a chance to develop and blossom. They should be quick to see the best in the other, and assume the fault with themselves, rather than thinking the worst in the other and always making themselves the victim.
God blesses and exalts the humble. Work on diminishing and exposing the Pharisee in yourself and learn to love with the eyes and heart of Christ.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.