July Reading from The Message
Here in Matthew 23, Jesus has just outwitted the Sadducees and Pharisees when they tried to rhetorically trap him. He famously says “give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his,” and clarifies the golden rule. Thoroughly stumped, the religious leaders quit asking him questions, then Jesus delivers an epic diatribe on hypocrisy…
1-3 Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
4-7 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
8-10 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
11-12 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
15 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.
16-22 “You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
25-26 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You buff the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
27-28 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
29-32 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.
33-34 “Snakes! Cold-blooded sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse.
35-36 “You can’t squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah’s son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I’m telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.
37-39 “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I’m out of here soon. The next time you see me you’ll say, ‘Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!’”
The Most Contemptible of Conditions
I can find nothing worse to call a person than a hypocrite. It’s the supreme insult. Hypocrite. Phony. Fake. Fraud. Any of the bad names and vulgarities that are in common use to label a person as unlovely, or undesirable, or unacceptable are more tolerable than this one: hypocrite. The reason that hypocrite is such an awful word is that it reveals a lie at the very core of one’s being.
Do you agree that “hypocrite” is the supreme insult, the most contemptible of conditions? And do you agree that you’re surrounded by hypocrites, that the condition is epidemic? Then let me ask you to do something. For the next few minutes, refuse to think about anyone else except yourself. Deny yourself the luxury of labeling others and examine your own life. Because the plain fact is, you are a hypocrite. And so am I.
The most famous attack on hypocrisy was by Jesus. His most famous address on the subject is in Matthew 23. In this chapter three things take place. First, Jesus describes the nature of hypocrisy. Then he thunders out seven woes on the hypocrites, citing various examples of their hypocrisy. Finally, he concludes his address compassionately, with an invitation to repentance.
I don’t know of any easy way to break the hypocrite habit, but I do know one way: Take each example of hypocrisy that Jesus touched and become more interested in finding out whether his words are aimed at you personally, and not anyone else.
Running through the entirety of the Bible is a continuous message: Hope in God. God will not disappoint.
The Message of Hope is a sourcebook for your soul’s journey, carefully collected and curated from the Bible. Move from disappointment—both small and large—to a life anchored in Jesus. It is a valuable resource for individuals and churches during difficult times.