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Matthew 23:1-7, 13-15, 23, 25-28
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves….
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others….
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean….
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….”
Jesus went back to the temple on Tuesday, where he was met with a series of questions from everyone who stood to lose anything if he was not stopped. Among the crowds, his popularity was soaring. To the powerful, though, he was a very real threat. In the temple his religious opponents, including the chief priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees, as well as political opponents like the Herodians, all gathered to question him. Their aim was to entangle him in his words and give them a reason to arrest him; without a good reason, they knew the crowds would riot.
Jesus masterfully answered all their questions, even stumping them with questions of his own before delivering some of the most sobering words we have recorded in the gospel narratives. He pronounced seven woes (judgments) on the present Pharisees and religious leaders. Jesus called out their hypocrisy repeatedly as he scolded them for talking the talk, but not walking the walk. They misled people. They kept the words of the Law, but ignored the spirit in which it was given. They were like painted tombs, clean on the outside but full of death on the inside.
Is there any other way to respond but to stop, reflect on Jesus’s words, and examine ourselves?
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