Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus judges the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He says, “On the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”
One of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life is to fall into the trap of auto-salvation, the conviction that one can save oneself through heroic moral effort. The principal problem with such a strategy is that it results in the strengthening of the very egotism that one hopes to overcome.
What Jesus so vehemently critiqued in the Pharisees was just this kind of egotism: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones.” Sin is not a weakness that we can overcome but a condition from which we have to be saved.
This insight should allow us, at an elemental psychological and spiritual level, to relax and to surrender. What happens often in the hearts of sinners is a kind of tightening of the spirit as the mind and will strive to break out of the prison of fear. All of this stretching and straining serves only to throw the ego back on itself in a misery of failure and self-reproach.