Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders
25“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
It’s Tuesday and we find Jesus confronting the sin of human pride and the stench of religious arrogance. Having already confronted the hypocrisy of the Lord's house being used as a den of robbers, Jesus now confronts those who falsely profess themselves to be religious authorities and righteous interpreters of God's law/command. The hypocrisy of a false leader/witness.
Contextually, the Gospel according to Matthew captures Jesus forcefully calling out the hypocritical nature of the religious elite (the Pharisees and teachers of the law) who profess a devotion to the Father built upon a strict observance to the Mosaic law and Hebraic tradition absent the love of one’s neighbor and a heart of humility (Lev.19:16-19, Psa.51:17).
At the core of this hypocrisy is the delusion that one’s behavior need not fully reflect a conformity to God’s command nor match the merits by which they speak. The Pharisees legalism and abhorrent attitude toward biblical law were a stumbling block for people in need of an intimate relationship with God. In Christ, God entered creation in order to bring about a renewal (removing the stumbling block) of access to the Father.
In Matt.16:6 and 23:3, Jesus warns us to “be on your guard against the yeast (teaching) of the Pharisees” and “not to do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”. Although the Pharisees considered themselves to be “intelligent” “holy” and “righteous,
”their self-centeredness and need for power kept them far from God’s heart and blocked seekers from experiencing the kingdom of God. We need to be careful, for the need for power or control can corrupt our hearts and influence how we perceive ourselves, treat others and justify our sinful nature.
Spoken in an admonishing tone, the “Seven Woes” of Jesus characterizes the sin that corrupts the heart of man; the sin of dissension, selfish ambition, idolatry, greed, conceit, and unrighteousness. We know these to be the acts of the flesh that hardens hearts and block the desires of the Spirit which brings glory to God (Gal. 5:16-26). Callous hearts are a stumbling block to followers of Jesus and prioritize human concerns over the concerns of God. May we draw closer to the will of Jesus and have humble hearts that keep in step with the Spirit of God.
Lastly, Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees brings forth the demand for a renewal of the heart that exceeds a strict obligation to just follow religious order and tradition but also calls for fulfilling the full measure of the law; that being to glorify God by loving Him and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40).
Through the chastising of the Pharisees public persona Jesus invites us to see how spiritually bankrupt we can become if we neglect to love the least, the last, and the lost; do justice and love mercy, and remain faithful in Him. (Matt.23:23, Luke 11:39-41)
Leadership in Christ comes from the transformation that happens from within. The Spirit of God compels us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in humility and submission to the glory of the Father. The Pharisees depict a life lived focused on external appearance of leadership over an internal reality. Self-righteousness and a legalistic attitude is the yoke of the Pharisees, a burden that draws believers closer to sin than the holiness of God.
But it is Jesus in Matt. 11:29-30 that tells us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As we continue our journey to the cross, I pray that the things that plague our hearts are crucified with Jesus. Amen