Don’t Be Like the Pharisees

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Matthew 23

Within Jesus’s bitter speech to the Pharisees, we can learn how to act, or more specifically, how not to act in our own lives. Because here, for once, Jesus is not denouncing the Pharisees for their inability to recognize Him, but for their hypocritical actions.

There are three basic themes in Jesus’s speech. 1) The Pharisees have not practiced what they  preached. 2) In their attempt to follow a bunch of relatively unimportant rules, they have failed to properly love their neighbor. 3) They are too worried about their own importance.

The first problem is still relatively common. We talk about how Jesus told us to love everyone, but then we act in hate or fear towards those who are different from us. For example. Everyone has this at least a little in their lives, and it is extremely difficult to do away with it. But the first step, I think, is to simply be aware. Watch for this in your everyday life so that when you do it, you’ll notice.

The second problem is a bigger issue for some people than others. Many of us (like me) find that trying to follow a set of rules is easier than the more general “love people.” (It can also be more gratifying more quickly.) It gives us something to focus on. And I don’t think that is necessarily wrong, until you start to hold your list above all else. Following your list makes you feel superior, makes you feel sinless, makes you feel that you are somehow earning Salvation, or causes you to ignore a sin or issue that isn’t on your list. We must be very careful to use rules only as learning tools as we grow in Christ. As Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount, often the spirit of the rule is really where our hearts stray.

The third problem is also a bigger problem for some than others. We must remember, NOBODY is more important or Holy than Jesus. And if we want to be like Him we must humble ourselves and try to be always working for others. When we think of great people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., or John Wesley, they are always servants. So too must we try to be.

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