Scripture: Matthew 23:27-32 (alternate reading: Matthew 6:17-29)
27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like white washed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, `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.' 31 Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.
Meditation: How can you tell what is real or fake, genuine or counterfeit? Outward appearances can be deceptive. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11:3-4). Jesus used strong language to warn the religious leaders about the vanity of appearance and pretense. In Palestine tombs were often placed by the sides of roads. They were painted white which made them glisten in the midday sun, especially around the time of the great feasts, so that people would not accidently touch them and incur ritual impurity.
Jesus warns that what truly corrupts a person is not ritual impurity but the impurity of sinful attitudes – such as pride, greed, sloth, envy, hatred, gluttony, and lust - which lead to sinful behavior. The scribes and Pharisees were intensely religious in their outward observances, but their outward show didn't match the inner reality of the state of their hearts. They not only neglected the poor and the weak, but they were intolerant towards anyone who challenged their idea of religion. That is why so many of the prophets in past ages – who warned about tolerating evil desires and unjust behavior towards one neighbor – were persecuted and even killed by their own rulers and people.
Jesus chastised the religious leaders for being double-minded and for demanding from others standards which they refused to satisfy. They professed admiration for the prophets by building their tombs while at the same time they opposed the prophets' message and closed their ears to the word of God. They shut themselves to heaven and they hindered others from understanding God's word. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah because their hearts were blinded and hardened to the voice of God. Only the humble of heart can receive from God true wisdom and understanding, pardon and healing. The Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew our minds and hearts and to teach us God's way of love and holiness. Ask the Holy Spirit to purify your heart and mind and to fill you with the wisdom and understanding of God's word.
"Lord Jesus, incline my heart to your wisdom and teach me your ways. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may love your ways and obey your word."
1 Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who
walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
4 Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!