“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. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” –Matthew 23:25-26
As I’ve meditated this week on the gospel reading from Matthew 23 for today, I’ve been more curious about the Pharisees that seem to lurk around every encounter Jesus has with the people. They had it out for Jesus, always looking for a way to trap him or discredit him. The strong language Jesus uses against them causes me to sit up and take notice since, I’m sorry to say, there are vestiges of the pharisaical attitude in me sometimes. I like to place myself in the gospel scenes in my imagination in an effort to learn from other’s mistakes. That’s not always comforting, praying today’s passage being one example.
The scribes and Pharisees were a zealous lot; their intentions were noble. Their concern for what the Roman occupation was doing to their culture and religious beliefs propelled them in driving everyone to follow the letter of God’s law as a national agenda. Enter God, with skin on, whose law is love, peace, grace, and mercy. This Jesus, who emphasizes the spirit of the law with unmatched zeal, is a threat to the rigid beliefs of the scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus speaks to us today.
Like the Pharisees, when we pretend to be someone or something we aren’t and become obsessed with how we appear to others, we crowd our minds and heart with thoughts of comparison and competition, and even resentment. You say to us: you’ve missed the simplicity of my love for you with your thousand qualifications. You trouble your soul at the expense of those from whom you seek approval. Be the beautiful human I’ve created you to be. Stand down from proving yourself, dear one, become as a servant whose only thought is to keep your eyes on your Master.
Like the Pharisees, when we hide our insecurities behind our hubris, more concerned with what don’t do, we lose focus on what matters. Jesus says to us, don’t block the road of holiness with the debris of your shoulds and musts. Take my hand and allow me to lead you with love and understanding, learn to walk my way.
Like the Pharisees, when we keep a tight grip on our possessions and time, parsimoniously extending ourselves for others by measuring out just enough to appear holy before others. Jesus says to us, don’t nickel and dime your way before others and stop nitpicking other’s acts of generosity. Do you remember how I generously gave my life up for you? It never occurred to me to keep score because it is not in me. I’m the Eternal Giver of all good things you do likewise.
Like the Pharisees, when we strive to appear squeaky clean to others yet practice secret vices and sins, Jesus says to us you forget that I’m more concerned about what you look like on the inside so let’s do some heart-cleaning. Unlock and open wide to me the closets you think I can’t see. Allow my Holy Spirit to light your darkness and sweep away those tattered rags you like to wear when you are alone.
Like the Pharisees, when we attempt to look good by making others look bad, it always comes back to bite us. When we shove our sense of what’s right and wrong with no regard for love, peace, mercy, and grace, we cut ourselves off from the LORD’s presence in our lives. Jesus says to us, come to me, lay down your arms, and allow me to enfold you in my goodness, you’ll start seeing others differently the closer to me you stay.
LORD Jesus Christ, your Law is love, and your gospel is peace. You created us to live and move and have our being in your reality, not the ones we conjure out of our pharisaical motivations. Holy Spirit, grant us the understanding we each need to reflect your love and peace in all we think, say, and do.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,