The Gospel passage for this Sunday is about a young ruler who approaches Jesus and requests a “list of deeds” to perform in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
Fr. Alexander Men in writing about self-righteousness, describes the Pharisees at the time of Jesus:
The idea that there is some “list of deeds” by performance of which it is possible to gain absolute righteousness gave these lawyers no peace. They competed with one another in striving for the punctual observance of all customs sanctified by the centuries. And thus, as has often happened in the history of religion, piety became a gloomy grotesque.
The people called some of the Pharisees shikma—“strong-shouldered” because they always walked around hunched over, showing what an enormous weight of soul-saving feats they had to bear. Entering the temple Jesus could see that the Pharisees were gathering across the square, constantly stumbling into passersby. They were afraid to lift their eyes lest they should accidently look upon a woman. They were called in jest Khitsay, “don’t-hit-your-head.”
It is natural that Christ’s freedom should have irritated and frightened such people; they saw in it temptation and threat to their good morals. In that era, according to the commentary of a Hebrew historian, the Pharisee-Shammaites steadfastly preached a flight from the world and asceticism. To say, for example, on looking up from a theological treatise, “What a beautiful tree!” was considered a mortal sin. The Pharisees also reserved a large place for fasting. Jesus, although He recognized these external exhibitions of faith, did not make them the center of religious life. (Fr Alexander Men, Son of Man, pgs 93-94)