Woe To You, Hypocrites!

In the book of Matthew we find interesting words of Yeshua speaking to the religious leaders of his time.  If I didn't know better, I would think that the Messiah was a little forceful with his delivery of these words to the Pharisees, his disciples and the crowd who had come to listen...

Matthew 23:1-36

Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to his disciples,

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you--but not what 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 tefillin broad and their tzitzit 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 you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called teacher, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

"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, blind guides, who say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! 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 temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

"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. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

"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.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar..."

That's some strong language!  And yet, it is the wise religious leader that takes these words to heart.  In my view, it would be easy step from the role of humble servant to the one who's every word is revered and followed.  That type of adoration is heady, for sure.  Yet, that is the position we congregants place our leaders in every day, every week, as we come to our places of worship.  It is a great burden of responsibility that can get unwieldy and awkward rather quickly.  The only remedy is for the leader to humble themselves before the Almighty, confess any weakness and/or sin and to deal with their flock with humility, love and compassion.  Anything short of that...well, perhaps you need to go back up and read those strong words of Yeshua again.  For I daresay that any religious leader that is worth anything would not want to be lumped in with those who are being spoken about in this passage.

The opening line of Yeshua's monologue stands out to me, particulary. Basically, listen and do what they say, but not what they do.  Obviously, they had been taught well, but learn well they did not.  The hypocritical teacher can easily study Scripture and the writings of other scholars.  They can even have the gift and skill to teach others how and why to live out the words of Scripture, but are somehow not willing or able to live out what they teach. I am puzzled at how anyone, in this day and time, could sit under the religious teaching of someone who shows evidence of a lifestyle contrary to what they are teaching.  Once you realize their hypocrisy, the respect and value of the teaching diminishes substantially (or at least, it should).  Moreover, how can anyone have the chutzpah to teach the very thing they themselves are unwilling to do? Living by the precepts and tenets of a believer of the Most High G-d is a standard of excellence and high morality that takes a substantial commitment, without question.  But to be told what to do and how to do it by someone who has a flagrant disregard for the most basic of commands (such as not bearing false witness against your neighbor) is a situation that screams of injustice.

It is clear that Yeshua wasn't very pleased with it, either.

And for those of us who are not in a leadership position, well, it is a good lesson for us, as well.  We are expected to walk in the manner of which we "talk".  We must walk in accordance with the commands of the LORD and live out our faith as a living testimony of the G-d we humbly serve.  That is wisdom and maturity.  It shows good character and is respected by others.  What is more, it glorifies the Father and exalts the Son.

And one more thought; Yeshua was speaking directly to the religious leaders of his day in a very public venue, as it is noted that not only those close to Yeshua were in attendance, but also the crowd that had gathered to hear His teaching and thoughts.  Do you think that the Messiah was speaking lashon hara (gossip or evil speech)?  What do you think was His intent in saying these words so publicly?  I can't imagine that the leaders didn't feel the sting of His words, their collective guilty conscience pricked.  However, it is clear Yeshua did not sin in His delivery of such indictments, since He was without sin.

Nobody, not even the Pharisees, were expected to be perfect.  However, a righteous religious leader exhibits humility and a deep G-d-given desire to serve others in, and with, love and compassion.  From the words of Yeshua, I can rightly surmise that greed, self-righteousness and even blatant sin is a death sentence for the hypocrite.


We must maintain a righteous life whether in or outside community. Nothing undermines community more than hypocrisy. To maintain healthy and vibrant community, scrupulous attention must be paid to strict honesty, righteousness and justice...always in the context of mercy, love and grace.


Patty said…
WOW!!! Great job Liz!!! AMEN!! Very well written my friend!! :-)
Ari C'rona said…
Wise words, my friend!

How anyone could be so cavalier as to espouse to be a believer and totally disregard G-d's commands is beyond me.

I fear for those in that position and pray that G-d would have mercy on them.

May we humbly bow before our Master every day asking Him to reveal anything that smacks of hypocrisy.
Mama Cache said…
As many times as I have read that passage, I don't think I've read it before without the accompanying emotion that I felt just now. So sobering.

I wonder, was there even one truly tender conscience among those leaders who heard Him speak that day? Nicodemus, perhaps? Joseph of Arimathea, maybe? I know that's merely speculation, but I still wonder. Words spoken with such passion from One so pure . . . I would like to think that some repentance resulted from that. I'd like to think it is still possible today.

Your commentary is insightful, my friend. Thanks for writing.