30 August 2017
In less than 20 chapters of Matthew we move from hearing about inspirational blessings recounted on the Sermon of the Mount to seven terrible woes.
The first four woes in this chapter are directed mainly to the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees; the last three to their characters.
In the Gospel today, Jesus focuses on one woeful character trait in particular – hypocrisy!
So what is it? In a nutshell, hypocrisy is presenting ourselves as something that we know we’re not—it’s one of the most subtle and dangerous of sins.
It’s important to note that when Jesus critiques the Pharisees for their love of appearing righteous, he is not criticising the good work itself. Of course we are meant to do good. The criticism is aimed at their motivation. As we read this chapter in Matthew, it becomes clear that the Scribes and Pharisees problem was not just an occasional, unintentional moral lapse, but a continual, intentional desire to cover up who they really were. These religious leaders wanted to appear to be something they were not. As a result, the total of all their religious efforts was zero.
As with the scribes and Pharisees, we too can run the danger of becoming like “whitewashed tombs” – looking perfect on the outside but all the while nursing, bitterness and selfishness where no one can see. As Jesus said, “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and all those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In his critiques of the Pharisees, Jesus challenges us to look at what is going on in our inner selves, the part of ourselves we hide from others, and indeed, from ourselves.
It can be fairly easy to have a ‘Pharisee’ inside, don’t you think? Take a look at the current emphasis we have in our culture to present a ‘perfect’ online social media profile. Perception is everything.
Argh!! Whitewashed tombs!
The Gospel today convicts us to be honest with ourselves and with God. Let us allow Jesus to open our eyes and ears so that we can focus on what is within and to respond honestly to Christ’s life changing mercy and boundless love.