“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13)
A few days ago, we heard Jesus say, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practise and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:2-3). Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of this discussion. We must bear in mind that Jesus never set out just to condemn these religious leaders. Jesus had a deep respect for the office they occupied and so wanted them to live out the truth of what they represented.
Jesus drew the attention of the scribes and Pharisees to their undue emphasis on tithes while ignoring the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy and faith. In truth, their love for material benefits was overtaking their concern for the spiritual welfare of the people. Jesus’ attempt to correct this anomaly would eventually see Him taking a whip of cords to drive out the money changers, petty traders and those rearing animals at the temple area. In Jesus words, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13).
In one of Jesus’ temptation, the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in all their glory and splendour promising to give them to Jesus if only He would bow. To bow to the devil is to refuse to put God first or to pretend to be doing God’s work while seeking for worldly riches. Whether we like it or not, this temptation remains always rife for anyone who sets out to do God’s work.
Some time ago, I saw a video of a man who declared that anyone who does not pay tithe will go to hell. Inspired by our love for money, we preachers have often gone to the extremes of instilling in the minds of the people just to make them give. This is exactly what Jesus set out to correct in the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus did not condemn tithing; instead, He says giving tithe is not as important as other requirements of God’s law. If failure to give tithes could lead one to hell, then when Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he would have said: “you shall give your tithes.”
Jesus goes further to teach us that religion should never be about putting up appearances. If the cup is to be clean enough for drinking, the washing must begin from the inside. The outside may be laced with gold but if the inside is dirty, the drink is poisonous. In other words, in our desire to do God’s work, we must always examine our motives; we must look inside – if our desire is to own a lot of money, cruise around the world and use the latest and the best of everything, we may just be serving poison to those who come in contact with us.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, free me from the spirit of hypocrisy. Amen.
Bible Study: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, Psalm 96:10-13 and Matthew 23:23-26).