Matthew 23: 13, 15-17, 23-31
13 ‘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. 15Woe 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.
16 ‘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.” 17You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?
23 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, 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. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
25 ‘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. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
27 ‘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. 28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30and 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.” 31Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.
As most of you know, back in the 1970s Myron Cope was a radio sports talk personality in Pittsburgh.
He was the color guy on the Steeler radio broadcasts and host of the Steeler Hotline after every Steeler game.
As a big Steeler fan, I would always tune in to these post game festivities.
Ove the years, I started to realize that the most entertaining shows were the were the ones after a Steeler loss.
The fans calling in were disappointed and angry.
They would harangue everything about the team.
Noll couldn’t coach.
Bradshaw couldn’t throw.
Harris couldn’t run.
Swan couldn’t catch.
Gerella couldn’t kick.
On and on and on.
The callers would be loud, angry and intense.
Each call was the definition of a good rant.
And a good rant can be really entertaining when it’s about the Steelers.
It is something that we expect to hear from a disgruntled Steeler fan, right.
But it is not something we expect to hear from people we revere, particularly when it is directed to us.
Parents, mentors, good friends.
Wait … what?
A Jesus rant?
I mean Jesus is mild mannered, full of grace and tolerance and forgiveness, right?
Well, not always.
Sometimes Jesus gets mad.
And we don’t really like to hear about that, do we?
Sure we like the overturned tables in the Temple.
I mean we never sell sacrificial stuff in the narthex.
That would never apply to us.
But a rant that might apply to us?
We don’t want to hear that.
That is why today’s text is not in the lectionary.
It’s Jesus in full rant.
He’s mad at the scribes and Pharisees.
He says woe to them!
What about these scribes and Pharisees angers Jesus so much?
Jesus says it seven times in today’s text.
They are hypocrites.
And whenever you see Jesus mad, that is almost, if not always, the reason.
The Greek word for hypocrite is hypokrites, which means “stage actor, pretender, dissembler.”
So, a hypocrite as a person who pretends to be a certain way, but really acts and believes something entirely different.
When people claim to be “people of God” but don’t act like it, they are hypocrites, and make Jesus really mad.
That is what Jesus encountered when he debated with the scribes and Pharisees at the Temple when he came to Jerusalem.
They had been asking Jesus questions that were intended to discredit him.
They finally got on Jesus’ last nerve and he begins the rant that is today’s text.
Jesus goes through a list of seven examples of hypocrisy that he condemns.
Let’s take a look at the examples Jesus identifies in our text.
Example number 1:
… [Y]ou lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.
The scribes and Pharisees did not care to enter God’s kingdom and dictated the rules that had to be followed for everyone else who wanted to go in.
There were thousands of these rules.
So many that they were insurmountable.
Everyone was basically locked out of God’s kingdom.
Reminds me of that old song from my rebellious youth:
Oh, signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs
Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
That was the Pharisees.
We don’t go in and neither will you.
They were keeping people out.
Example number 2:
[Y]ou cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Converts are the worst!
They think that they are better than everyone else.
We all know what that is like.
We all know someone who has quit smoking and become the no-smoking police.
Such a person comes across a person smoking and … well … starts a rant about how awful and dirty it is to smoke.
When folks hear them, they light up again, just to make a point.
Those converted by the scribes and Pharisees ranted about a level of holiness even more likely to stop people from seeking God.
Jesus said they were children of hell.
Example number 3:
[You] say, “Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.”
Here Jesus condemns the practice of the scribes and Pharisees that condoned the use of double talk to evade promised obligations.
Like children who cross their fingers when making a promise.
This is deceit.
Saying you will do something, knowing you will not, or finding a reason not to later.
Example number 4:
For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
The Pharisees believe that 10% of everything had to be given to the Temple.
They spent all their time on dogmatic minutia like what constitutes 10% while at no time trying to understand why they were doing.
We all know people like that, too.
Folks who get so caught up in the details they can’t accomplish what they are called to do.
Jesus likens it to the straining of an unclean gnat out of a cup of wine, while eating an entire camel that is equally unclean.
Here the scribes and Pharisees were straining the gnat of tithing while ignoring their injustice, lack of mercy and lack of faith.
Example number 5:
For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
The Pharisees talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
They look all clean on the outside but are not clean on the inside.
It’s all show.
Like the kid who cleans his room by shoving everything under the bed or in the closet.
But don’t look too closely!
Example number 6:
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.
Nice a bright and beautiful on the outside, but death and bones on the inside.
Not just dirty, but unclean.
Example number 7:
For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30and 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.” 31Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.
These scribes and Pharisees claim to honor the prophets and righteous ancestors, but act just like those people who had the prophets and righteous ancestors killed.
They are just like them.
They are equally guilty.
They build pretty tombs for the prophets, but ignore the words of these men and women that got them killed.
Jesus says these are all examples of hypocrisy.
Religious people who said one thing but did another.
Religious people who pretend to be one thing but are something else.
Religious people standing for one thing but believing something else.
In his commentary on today’s text Barclay says this:
To Jesus the scribes and Pharisees were men who were acting a part. … Their whole idea of religion consisted in outward observances, … the meticulous observance of rules and regulation of the Law. But in their hearts there was bitterness and envy and pride and arrogance. To Jesus these scribes and Pharisees were men who, under a mask of elaborate godliness, concealed hearts in which the most godless feelings and emotions held sway.
Such people make Jesus mad.
So mad that he says, “Woe to you”!
A word that in Greek includes both wrath and sorrow.
But also sorrow that there is such a disconnect from God.
This is hard to listen to.
Could we be the target of such a rant from Jesus?
Does any of this apply to us?
But let me draw a distinction between our human failings (we all act hypocritically from time to time) and what was going on with the scribes and Pharisees.
Pastor Jin S. Kim says this:
Jesus rarely has a harsh word for tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals or even the Roman soldiers who kill him, but he has a litany of curses lined up for the religious authorities of his day. While Jesus has compassion on the people, he has little patience for the powerful who profane God by pursuing their own self-righteousness at the expense of the people they serve.
God will forgive our failings, but not our profane misuse of God’s words by pursuing our own self-righteousness at the expense of the people we are called to love.
These Scribes and Pharisees are profane.
They are doing what they do in a way that insults God.
They claim God has locked the door to the kingdom.
They claim that God condones deceit.
They claim God is more satisfied by how things look than how things are.
They claim that mourning prophets is the same as learning the prophetic lesson.
In other words, they neither love God nor love neighbor.
We all do some of these things from time to time.
What we need to do is recognize it and correct it.
That is what the scribes and Pharisees did not and would not do.
They spent their time with Jesus trying to discredit him when they would have been better off listening to what he had to say.
Because if they had been listening, they would have heard Jesus say that all those who love God and love neighbor get into the kingdom.
If they had been listening, they would have heard Jesus say that all those who pursue justice and mercy and faith get into the kingdom.
And that is the lesson we need to learn today.
The lesson we need to learn is that hypocrisy makes Jesus mad!
Sends Jesus into a rant.
Like a Steeler fan who berates the effort of the Steelers on a losing Sunday.
We don’t want to be the target of that.
So, we need to play our best game every day.
Pursue justice and mercy and faith.
Because that makes Jesus glad.