August 28, 2023
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” Matthew 23:13
Today begins Jesus’ “Woe to you…” condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees. He issues seven subsequent condemnations. The one quoted above is His first. At the time, Jesus’ condemnations of these religious leaders fell mostly on deaf ears. They were obstinate and would not listen to what Jesus had to say. But it’s useful to note that these condemnations appear to actually be spoken about the scribes and Pharisees to the disciples and the crowds to whom Jesus was speaking.
Though there are many lessons we can learn from our Lord, let’s consider the first thing He says. He condemns hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is essentially saying one thing and doing another. It’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Hypocrisy can also come in the form of trying to present oneself as if one has every virtue under Heaven but in reality cares little for the clear doctrine and moral precepts given us by God. In the scripture passage, the scribes and Pharisees claimed to be leading people to salvation, but they were condemning the very source of salvation. On one hand, some of what they taught was true, but they failed to teach with the virtue that comes from God. On the other hand, some of what they taught was flat-out erroneous, because they were more concerned about their public persona than they were about the truth. Essentially, they were hypocrites, because their words and actions were neither united in the truth nor lived through the virtues given by God.
These two opposing tendencies seem to be a source of much division within our Church today. On the extreme “right,” we have those who preach doctrine but fail to exercise the necessary virtue so as to be effective instruments of those truths. And on the extreme “left” are those who act as if so-called virtue is all that matters. They deemphasize the clear and unambiguous moral and doctrinal truths that were given to us by our Lord, so that others will praise them for appearing kind, accepting and compassionate toward all. The problem is that one cannot exclude truth from virtue or virtue from truth. Compassion is not compassionate if it lacks truth, and the truth is not true if it is not presented with the virtues by which our Lord wants them brought forth. And though the scribes and Pharisees appear to be more focused upon their interpretations of various truths to the exclusion of virtue, their struggle with hypocrisy is just as real for those on both extremes today.
Reflect, today, upon the importance of embracing each and every moral and doctrinal precept given by our Lord. We must embrace everything He says with every fiber of our being. Reflect, also, upon how you express these teachings of Jesus to others. Do you strive to present the full Gospel with the greatest virtue? The deeper the truth, the more necessary is the virtue with which it is presented. And the more virtue you have, the better instrument of the full truth you will be. Strive to overcome every form of hypocrisy within your life by working toward true holiness. Holiness is wholeness. The Truth united to virtue. Only then will you escape from the condemnation of our Lord, but you will also thrive as a pure instrument of His saving grace.
My saving Lord, You desired deeply that the religious leaders of the time be powerful instruments of Your saving Gospel by presenting all truth in pure love. Please free me from every error so that Your holy Word will be alive in me and will be sent forth to others through the manifestation of the many virtues You wish to bestow. Jesus, I trust in You.