1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbiby others. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.11The greatest among you shall be your servant.12Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hellas yourselves.16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears bythe gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Foryou tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Foryou clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within 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 monuments of the righteous, 30saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah,whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Truly, I say to you,all these things will come upon this generation.37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I havegathered your children together as a hen gathers her broodunder her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:1-39
There are no hidden meanings in Jesus’ words today. Not really. There are some metaphors, but this list of grievances against the Pharisees and scribes is long and blunt. And Jesus’ anger is as plain as his condemning words.
It is righteous anger to be sure, but even so, I shift uncomfortably. I pull back from him a little bit this morning. This is not the sweet, easy-going, loving Jesus that I am used to. This Jesus is still loving, but he is also harsh, condemning, zealous in his attack on the Pharisees. In his attack on sin.
We are not privy to the Pharisees’ or scribes’ reactions to Jesus in this passage. But given their desire to stop him, to destroy him in their previous run-ins, I can imagine their sense of outrage, their indignation, their seething anger at this most recent barrage of barbs cutting them down. Calling them out in front of the crowds. Making them human. Revealing their sinfulness. Revealing their hypocrisy.
No, this is a side of Jesus with which I definitely am not comfortable. I like to focus on his grace, his unconditional love, his forgiveness, his redemption. But watching him today, I recall that the reason for his grace, his forgiveness, his redemption is the sin that angers him so. Underneath all of his anger remains love. Tough love. Unrelenting love. Unconditional love.
But in this moment, it doesn’t seem so unconditional, does it? It seems hinged upon the Pharisees finally relenting, finally acknowledging their hypocrisy, finally admitting their unbelief, finally confessing their sin. But it’s not. From my spot near Jesus, I can see how wrong that supposition is. I can see the love in his eyes even as they flash with anger. He wants the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees to enter into His Kingdom. In fact, he wants it more than they do.
His anger is as much imploring as it is condemning. It is as much an invitation as it is a conviction. He loves them as much as they hate him.
Because their anger boils, too, doesn’t it? In every encounter, I can see their roiling, defensive anger. An anger that seems to match the Savior’s. Except that their anger is not motivated by love. Their anger is motivated by self-preservation, by their need for power, by their need to mask their humanity, their imperfection, their sinfulness.
Oh, how I have been there. I have experienced that burning anger motivated by the fear of being seen, the fear of being known for who I am and what I’ve done. And it doesn’t stop just because you relent and admit your need for Jesus. Your need for forgiveness. Being forgiven, being in a relationship with Jesus, doesn’t keep me from messing up. It doesn’t stop me from hurting others. It doesn’t mean I make the right choice every time.
And it doesn’t mean I won’t experience that familiar burning anger for being convicted of my screw ups. For being seen in my sinfulness. My desire for self-preservation and my self-centeredness remain, though they continue growing smaller as my love and admitted need for Jesus grow larger.
Oh, how I wish I could whisper this truth to the Pharisees. How I wish I could help them see who Jesus is and what he wants from them. That he wants their hearts. He wants their lives. And in return, he will make them greater than they’ve ever been. Just not in the way that they want, that they are trying to create for themselves. It will be so much better than you can imagine, I want to tell them.
But they won’t listen. They won’t hear me.
So, I’ll whisper it to myself. Over and over, again and again. It won’t be easy. It won’t be easy. It won’t look anything like you think or hope it will. But it will be worth it. And it will be so much better.
So much better.