Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must obey them. Do everything they tell you. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for others to see. On their foreheads and arms they wear little boxes that hold Scripture verses. They make the boxes very wide. And they make the tassels on their coats very long.
“They love to sit down in the place of honor at dinners. They also love to have the most important seats in the synagogues. They love to be greeted in the market places. They love it when people call them ‘Rabbi.’
“But you shouldn’t be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have only one Master, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth ‘father.’ You have one Father, and he is in heaven. You shouldn’t be called ‘teacher.’ You have one Teacher, and he is the Christ. The most important person among you will be your servant. Anyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up.
“How terrible it will be for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter. And you will not let those enter who are trying to.
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You travel everywhere to win one person to your faith. Then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
“How terrible for you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone takes an oath in the name of the temple, it means nothing. But anyone who takes an oath in the name of the gold of the temple must keep the oath.’ You are blind and foolish! Which is more important? Is it the gold? Or is it the temple that makes the gold holy?
“You also say, ‘If anyone takes an oath in the name of the altar, it means nothing. But anyone who takes an oath in the name of the gift on it must keep the oath.’ You blind men! Which is more important? Is it the gift? Or is it the altar that makes the gift holy?
“So anyone who takes an oath in the name of the altar takes an oath in the name of it and of everything on it. And anyone who takes an oath in the name of the temple takes an oath in the name of it and of the One who lives in it. And anyone who takes an oath in the name of heaven takes an oath in the name of God’s throne and of the One who sits on it.
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You give God a tenth of your spices, like mint, dill and cummin. But you have not practiced the more important things of the law, like fairness, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the last things without failing to do the first. You blind guides! You remove the smallest insect from your food. But you swallow a whole camel!
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You clean the outside of the cup and dish. But on the inside you are full of greed. You only want to satisfy yourselves. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish. Then the outside will also be clean.
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You are like tombs that are painted white. They look beautiful on the outside. But on the inside they are full of the bones of the dead. They are also full of other things that are not pure and clean. It is the same with you. On the outside you seem to be doing what is right. But on the inside you are full of what is wrong. You pretend to be what you are not.
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You build tombs for the prophets. You decorate the graves of the godly. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of those who lived before us, we wouldn’t have done what they did. We wouldn’t have helped to kill the prophets.’ So you give witness against yourselves. You admit that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets. So finish the sins that those who lived before you started!
“You nest of poisonous snakes! How will you escape from being sentenced to hell? So I am sending you prophets, wise men, and teachers. You will kill some of them. You will nail some to a cross. Others you will whip in your synagogues. You will chase them from town to town.
“So you will pay for all the godly people’s blood spilled on earth. I mean from the blood of godly Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berekiah. Zechariah was the one you murdered between the temple and the altar. What I’m about to tell you is true. All this will happen to those who are now living.
“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and throw stones in order to kill those who are sent to you. Many times I have wanted to gather your people together. I have wanted to be like a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. But you would not let me! Look, your house is left empty. 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 23:1-39
In today’s rather lengthy reading, Jesus has a lot to say to the Pharisees. I usually love it when Jesus yells at the Pharisees. It makes me feel better about myself.
The word “Pharisee” has a very negative connotation. I decided to look up what the word actually means. Here’s one definition (I found it on Google so we know it’s true): “A member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.”
I find that last part interesting. And commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.
That’s not how things started out. Pharisees had a high and noble calling. That is the first thing Jesus makes clear. But somewhere along the line they started to care more about keeping up appearances than about caring for God’s people. All of their self-made laws created a chasm between them and the people. Only they were good enough to get to God.
We should also remember that this was not the norm for every Pharisee. There were some who genuinely wanted to follow God as humbly as possible. And Jesus never stopped pursuing Pharisees. We often like to point out that Pharisees were appalled that Jesus hung out with “sinners”. But perhaps “sinners” were equally appalled at Him for hanging out with Pharisees!
We sometimes use terms that have neutral meanings in a negative connotation. “They’re nothing but a bunch of conservatives.” “He’s a typical liberal.” In the church world, calling someone a Pharisee is the ultimate insult. I’ve done it many times. “Thank God I’m enlightened, and not soooo judgmental like him. He’s a typical Pharisee.” BAM! You’ve been Phariseed!
And just like that, I’ve become more interested in how I’m being perceived by others than about loving that person.
When I Pharisee a Pharisee, I’ve become a Pharisee. Someone who still needs Jesus.
And someone who Jesus still loves.