“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
We all have a choice to be blessed or damned. In the Beatitudes, Jesus spells out seven things that lead to blessings, grace, and peace. In today’s passage (and the one we will look at tomorrow), he spells out the things that lead to a life of misery, struggle, and unhappiness. The Pharisees were guilty of doing these things. What are they? Let us quickly scan them, looking at them in the modern-day context to make them more meaningful to us. While we are at it, it wouldn’t hurt to do a quick self-appraisal and see if we might not be modern-day Pharisees.
One, we lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. How can somebody do this? By devising their own rules and systems for entering heaven. How does one enter heaven? Peter tells us: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). That’s the simple answer. What rule are you following? What rule are you teaching others to follow? Is it a complicated system designed to lock people out or welcome them in?
Two, we act like pious thieves. You might notice that there is no verse 14 in your Bible, although it is there in older manuscripts. It states: “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.” Since this “woe” is almost identical to Mark 12:40, let us consider it here.
Such people often offer assistance to people in need, but the motive is greed. With the pretense of bringing spiritual comfort, such people use their influence to gain money or sexual favors. Peter warns about such people: “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed —an accursed brood!” (2 Peter 2:14).
Three, we expend a lot of time, effort, and resources to bring people to Christ, but when they come, we make them believe in things that make them even more enslaved than before. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said, “But I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Are we leading lives of abundance? Are the people we minister to leading lives of fullness?
Four, we emphasize ritual rather than relationship. Our approach to our faith is very often superstitious, and prayer consists of a series of well-choreographed steps that we believe will be effective. Think about the prayers that we say. What’s our internal disposition when we make them?
We will cover the remaining three woes in tomorrow’s reflection. We have plenty to reflect on today.
May the Spirit be with you.