Hypocrites in high places
Jesus: Don’t do what religion leaders do1 Jesus told his followers and the crowd that had gathered, 2 “Religion scholars and Pharisees now do what Moses used to do: they teach you the Law. 3 So you should do what they tell you. But don’t do what they do. They’re not fit to imitate. 4 They load people up with more rules than anyone could possibly carry. And they don’t lift a finger to help anyone carry them. 5 Whenever they do something that makes them look religious, they do it for an audience; they’re putting on a show. They do it with the worship clothes they wear. When they wear boxes that hold Bible passages, they make the boxes big enough for people to see. When they wear tassels on their prayer robes, they make the tassels huge. 6 They sure do love the best seats around a banquet table and those reserved seats in the front of the synagogues. 7 And when they’re out and about in public, they love it when others call them ‘Teacher.’ 8 I’m telling you this, don’t let people call you ‘Teacher.’ There’s only one Teacher. You folks are all brothers and sisters. 9 And another thing, don’t call anyone on earth your Father. You have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. 10 Don’t even let someone call you a guide. You have one guide, and it’s the Messiah. 11 If you want to find the most important person among you, find the best servant. 12 If you brag about yourself, you’re going to learn some humility the hard way. But if you maintain a humble spirit, you’re going to be honored.
Bad news for hypocrites13 There’s tragedy ahead for you religion scholars and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You actually keep people out of the Kingdom of Heaven. You shut the door in their face. You don’t go into the Kingdom, and you don’t let anyone else go in, either. 14 There’s tragedy ahead for you religion scholars and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You confiscate the property of widows, cheating them out of their homes. Then you have the nerve to go out in public and pray long prayers so people will compliment you. When it comes time for your punishment, you’ll get something extra. 15 There’s tragedy ahead for you religion scholars and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You’ll travel far and wide over land and sea to win a single convert. Then you’ll turn that person into a son of Satan who’s twice as bad as you are.
Blind guides on a religious road trip16 There’s tragedy ahead for you blind guides. You tell people, ‘If you swear an oath on the Temple, it’s not legally binding. But if you swear an oath on the gold in the Temple, you are bound by the promise you made.’ 17 You ignorant fools. Blind people. Can’t you see that the Temple is more important than the gold? Sure, the gold is sacred. But it’s the Temple that makes it sacred. 18 You also tell people, ‘If you swear an oath on the altar of the Temple, it’s not binding. But if you swear an oath on an offering someone puts on the altar, you’ve got to keep that promise.’ 19 Could you possibly be any more blind? What do you think is more important, the gift or the altar? The gift is sacred. But it’s the altar that makes it sacred. 20 When someone makes a promise and swears by the altar to keep it, they aren’t swearing on the altar alone. They are swearing by everything on the altar as well. 21 And when someone makes a promise by swearing on the Temple, they aren’t swearing on the Temple alone. They are swearing by the One who lives there. 22 When someone swears by heaven, they aren’t just swearing on God’s throne. They are swearing by the One who sits on the throne. 23 I’ve got some bad news for you religion experts and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You give a ten percent tithe even on the tiniest garden herbs you own—mint and dill and cumin. Big deal. You ignore what’s more important: justice and mercy and devotion. You should have done all these things. 24 Blind guides, that’s what you are. You strain out a gnat, but you can’t see that you’re swallowing a camel. 25 There’s tragedy ahead for you religion scholars and Pharisees, you hypocrites. That’s because you ritually wash the outside of a cup and a bowl, but you fill them with greed and self-centeredness. 26 You blind Pharisees. Clean the inside of the cup, then you can work on cleaning the outside, too. 27 You religion experts and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You’re in for it. You’re like a garden graveyard, manicured and presentable on the surface. Down deep, you’re full of dead men’s bones and rotting guts that pollute the dirt. 28 On the outside, you look religious and good-hearted. But inside you’re full of hypocrisy and broken laws.
Jesus: You’re guilty of every murder that ever happened29 There’s tragedy ahead for you religion scholars and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build tombs for the prophets and you add beautifying touches to the graves of people devoted to God. 30 You say, ‘If we had lived back in those days when people killed the prophets, we wouldn’t have had any part of it.’ 31 In merely saying that, you testify against yourselves. You admit that you are descendants of the very people who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead and continue the family tradition of guilt. 33 You snakes! You slithering tangle of poisonous snakes! How can you possibly escape God’s condemnation and punishment? 34 So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to send you prophets and wise men and religion scholars. You’ll kill and crucify some of them. You’ll beat some of them in the synagogues. You’ll hunt some of them down, traveling from town to town. 35 Their blood is on you. You’ll be found guilty for the death of every good person who ever lived, starting with the goodhearted Abel, and including Zechariah the son of Berekiah. You killed him in the Temple’s sacred courtyard, between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 I’m telling you the truth, the tragedy I’ve been talking about is coming to the people of this generation. You are the ones who are going to be held accountable.
Jerusalem makes Jesus sad37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You kill the prophets. And you stone to death others who are sent to you. You don’t have any idea how many times I’ve wanted to wrap you up in a hug the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you are not huggable. You want nothing to do with me. 38 Look, here’s what’s coming. Your home is empty and abandoned. 39 I’m telling you this, I’m leaving you now. The next time you see me it will be when you’re saying, ‘Here comes the one God approved.’”
Phylacteries, tefillin in Hebrew. Some Orthodox Jews still wear these boxes made of wood or leather strapped on their forehead or forearm. They do this because Moses told the Jews to memorize the laws of God: “Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders” (Deuteronomy 16:18 New Living Translation).
Jews wore tassels to remind them to obey God’s laws: “You must put four tassels on the hem of the cloak with which you cover yourself—on the front, back, and sides” (Deuteronomy 22:12 New Living Translation).
The Greek word can mean a master, teacher, guide, or leader.
Some ancient copies of Matthew don’t contain this verse. Compare this verse to Mark 12:40.
Gnats and camels are both among the nonkosher food forbidden to Jews (Leviticus 11:4, 23).
Jesus was listing the murders from A-Z. In the way the Jews ordered the books of their Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, Abel and Zechariah were the first and last men murdered.
A more traditional translation would be: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (New American Standard Bible). See Psalm 118:26.
Jesus has already flipped over the tables of merchants in the Temple courtyard (21:12). Now he tears into the religion scholars. If words alone could pick someone up and throw them on the ground, the words Jesus uses to describe the religion scholars would do just that. Why is he so verbally vicious?
What’s up with Jesus saying we shouldn’t call each other “Teacher” or “Father” (23:8, 9)? Does that mean we’re not supposed to call our teachers a teacher or our fathers a father?
Apparently among the many rules Pharisees expected other Jews to observe, were their rules about verbal contracts. Jesus said they got it wrong when they told people that swearing an oath on the gold in the Temple was binding but swearing an oath on the Temple itself is not (23:16-17). What’s the big deal?
Why do you think Jesus tells the religion scholars that they are guilty of the murder of “every good person who ever lived” (23:35)? Pick a suggestion or create one of your own.
- Jesus was mad and blowing off steam.
- It makes no sense, but since Jesus said it, so we believe it.
- It was a metaphor, linking the Jews in his day to their ancestors who killed the prophets.
- In the Kingdom of Heaven, “it works this way: If you break one law, you might as well have broken them all—because you have broken the law” (James 2:10). So, if you kill one person—Jesus, for example—you kill them all.
The chapter ends in an odd way. Jesus laments that Jerusalem kills its prophets. And he’s about to become one of them. He wants to protect the people, but they don’t want anything to do with him. What do you think he’s talking about when he says that Jerusalem will become a home that is “empty and abandoned” (23:38)?
What do you think Jesus meant when he said, “The next time you see me it will be when you’re saying, ‘Here comes the one God approved’” (23:39)?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus criticizes the religion scholars of his day for loving to dress up in their religious clothes, get greeted politely in public, get reserved seats at synagogues, and for praying long prayers out in public (23:5-7; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47). If Jesus gave warnings about religion leaders today, what do you think he would say? And for heaven’s sake, don’t mention anyone’s name unless folks have already read them in the news.
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus says the religion leaders sweat the small stuff and skip the big stuff. “You give a ten percent tithe even on the tiniest garden herbs you own—mint and dill and cumin. Big deal. You ignore what’s more important: justice and mercy and devotion” (23:23). How do Christians do that today?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus paints a cool word picture to illustrate misplaced priorities. He tells religion leaders they “strain out a gnat, but you can’t see that you’re swallowing a camel” (23:24). How do church leaders swallow camels today?