Do I?

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“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.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”
(Matthew 23:12-22)

Scripture Study

23:13 You lock the kingdom of heaven: cf. Mt 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter that he will give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The purpose of the authority expressed by that metaphor is to give entrance into the kingdom (the kingdom is closed only to those who reject the authority); here the charge is made that the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is exercised in such a way as to be an obstacle to entrance. Cf. Lk 11:52 where the accusation against the “scholars of the law” (Matthew’s scribes) is that they “have taken away the key of knowledge.”

23:14 Some manuscripts add a verse here or after Mt 23:12 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. Because of this, you will receive a very severe condemnation.” Cf. Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47. This “woe” is almost identical with Mk 12:40 and seems to be an interpolation derived from that text.

23:15 In the first century a.d. until the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (a.d. 66–70), many Pharisees conducted a vigorous missionary campaign among Gentiles. Convert: literally, “proselyte,” a Gentile who accepted Judaism fully by submitting to circumcision and all other requirements of Mosaic law. Child of Gehenna: worthy of everlasting punishment; Twice as much as yourselves: possibly this refers simply to the zeal of the convert, surpassing that of the one who converted him.

23:16–22 An attack on the casuistry that declared some oaths binding (one is obligated) and others not (it means nothing) and held the binding oath to be the one made by something of lesser value (the gold; the gift on the altar). Such teaching, which inverts the order of values, reveals the teachers to be blind guides; cf. Mt 15:14. Since the Matthean Jesus forbids all oaths to his disciples (Mt 5:33–37), this woe does not set up a standard for Christian moral conduct, but ridicules the Pharisees on their own terms.

Scripture Reflection

The Lord’s indictment of the Pharisees should lead us, especially those involved in Christian leadership, to a sober examination of conscience. What is most alarming about the Pharisees is their total unawareness of their dire condition. Given this human capacity for spiritual blindness, we have every reason to pray for the grace of self-knowledge.

The questions that follow are based on Jesus’ reproof of the Pharisees. Using them to examine ourselves, we can strive to avoid the conduct that Jesus found so displeasing:

  • Do I practice what I preach?
  • Do I help others live by God’s standards, or do I simply instruct them on what those standards are?
  • Do I perform religious actions to impress others or to obtain God’s approval?
  • Do I desire salutations of honor?
  • Do I relate to people in a way that welcomes them to conversion, or do I imply by my actions that they are not welcome in the kingdom?
  • Do I evade responsibilities by legalistic reasoning?
  • Do I emphasize lesser matters to the neglect of justice, mercy, and fidelity?

These questions identify the typical faults of people who are trying to live the Christian life on their own strength. To rise above them—and so avoid the failings of the Pharisees—we need the grace that God wants to give us through prayer and regular confession.

– Curtis Mitch

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.