Scripture: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 ESV
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Observation: Recapping yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus, following his formulaic woe statements, unabashedly addresses the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. Why? Because they meticulously tithe the minutiae of the law while neglecting the more critical elements, particularly justice, mercy, and faithfulness. And not letting up, he calls them blind guides and tells them to observe all aspects of the law and not devote inordinate attention to its less critical elements.
Today’s reading continues with Jesus’ fifth woe lodged against the scribes and Pharisees. This time, Jesus points out that the religious leaders meticulously observe the laws regarding the ceremonial washing of dinnerware. Reiterating his allegation that they are spiritually blind, Jesus tells them first to clean the inside of the cup and plate so that the outside may be clean (referring to their spiritual condition).
Takeaway: This is a shocking accusation that offends these self-righteous religious leaders. But it likely delights the crowd, given the scribes and Pharisees took great pride in their observance of the law and condescended toward the common folk who were more concerned about putting food on their table.
The Levitical law in view here refers to vessels that come in contact with an unclean animal or defiled human (Leviticus 11:29-38). And like their meticulous observance of tithing, the religious leaders legislate God’s holiness code beyond its intent. Missing the heart of the law, the Pharisees earlier criticized Jesus for eating with the ceremonially unclean when attending a dinner with Matthew and friends (9:1–12) and later for failing to require his disciples to follow the purity laws (15:1–20). While utilizing diplomacy during these earlier two encounters, with the shadow of evil encroaching and his crucifixion days away, Jesus no longer needs to hold back. He challenges these hypocrites to cleanse their hearts and minds before concerning themselves with outward observances.
Our takeaway? As with all the woes, we must seriously consider how our pride gets the best of us. It spurs us to seek control of ourselves and others to keep up appearances. But the self-control that Paul lists as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) requires the surrender of our egos and the maturation of our faith. We see one such example in John’s Gospel where Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin leadership, first approaches Jesus under the cloak of the night sky to learn more about what he is teaching (3:1-15). Nicodemus later challenges his colleagues to follow due process of the law before judging Jesus (7:50-51). Lastly, he wholeheartedly steps into the light of the day as a follower of Christ to assist Joseph of Arimathea in burying his body (19:38-42).
Like Nicodemus, our spiritual journeys entail transitioning from an outward veneer to an inward reality that expresses godly concern for the well-being of us and others. How so? If we submit to the Holy Spirit, he will graciously expose our blind spots of pride that pull us toward legalism and mere appearances of obedience. Indeed, he will break down our humanly-constructed ego-defense systems so that we will learn to live without concern for what others think, thereby making space in our hearts and minds to consider what we all genuinely need: the transformative love and grace of our Lord and Savior.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who surrendered his divine prerogative to ensure our well-being in eternity. Still, in this life, we struggle with pride and are prone to manage ourselves and others in ways that hurt all of us. So, in your mercy, would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit to become less concerned about what others think and more thoughtful about how we can bless them and us through your Son’s love and grace? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling