We often read about or see on TV a story of some con artist deceiving people and taking their money.  Examples are plentiful: fly- by- night roofers, self-styled furnace repair men, people selling ineffective security devices, unneeded or inappropriate insurance.   The list could be extended.  Clearly, people can be deceived rather easily.

When we read those stories we are tempted to think  those people should have known better.  From the vantage point of an outside observer we see that most of those schemes would not be successful unless, to some extent, the victim deceives him/her self.  This is most evident in the case of get-rich-quick schemes.

It seems we human beings are subject to self-deception.  We can con ourselves. We find ways to avoid seeing what we do not want to see or for not doing what we don’t want to do.  We put some kind of explanation or theory between ourselves and the reality we don’t want to face.

In his gospel Matthew provides an illustration of that.  (Mt. 12: 21-28)  He tells of the reaction of the Pharisees after witnessing a miracle of Jesus.  Jesus had cured a man possessed by the devil who was both dumb and blind.  It was an amazing work of power.  But the Pharisees responded in a self-deceiving way.  The gospel account does not detail their thought process.  It just tells the result.  We are told they attributed the miracle to Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Perhaps their thinking went something like this.  This man does not conform to my idea of what the Messiah should be like.  Thus this work of power cannot be a sign that this man is the Messiah.  The miracle is there.  I see it and have to find some explanation.  It must come from somewhere else.  Thus I don’t have to accept this man or his teaching.

We view the Pharisees negatively because they consistently tried to discredit Jesus and eventually persecuted him. But we can learn from them in as much as they provide a negative example.  We can learn of attitudes and conduct to be avoided.

Yet there is a hidden Pharisee in each of us in the sense that we can be tempted to be like them in some ways.  Like them we can engage in self-deception.  It is a challenge to look at ourselves with complete honesty and to change the things that need to be changed.  We would do well to pray for the grace to successfully meet that challenge.