Matthew 23:13-15

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:13-15

As I said last week, the scribes and the Pharisees will get a tongue lashing from Jesus for the rest of this chapter. But instead of thinking that what Jesus says refers to “them back there”, or even “them” today, let’s listen all week as if his words are directed straight at us. I choose to read this chapter as if the words are directed straight at me.

Why? Because I want to grow. Looking down my nose at someone else doesn’t help anything. It just makes me not pay attention to where I’m walking and thus, far more likely to stumble. But, as difficult as it is to hear hard words, I am far more likely to benefit from them if they hit me where they need to. So here we go…

The word “hypocrite” has its roots in the Greek theater. Actors would hold up masks for the various characters they would play. This allowed a few actors in a company to portray many different characters. That is fine in a play, not too fine in real life. It is where we get the word “two-faced.” Jesus accuses us of hypocrisy.

I plead guilty as charged. If I act one way in public and another way at home, I am the definition of a hypocrite. If I act one way in front of the congregation and another way in a team meeting or a staff meeting, guilty again. Clearly, life itself draws us out in different ways but what Jesus points out runs deeper. It reaches our character – the way we are when no one is looking.

Here Jesus points out how our actions can actually block someone from experiencing the reign of God in their lives. Rather than seeing the freedom and the love that is at the heart of a relationship with God, we are far too quick to expect conformity to tradition, certain kinds of public decorum.

Unwittingly, rather than walking with someone into a new or renewed relationship with God, we subtly encourage them to mistake that relationship to one of belonging with us. OUR rules and regulations – most of them unspoken and unconscious – become the measure of that relationship. Rather than freedom, people bumble into a new kind of bondage because of our blind guidance.

What is the corrective lens that might help us?

To the first, I think the answer looks like honesty and vulnerability. Often our hypocrisy is driven by the idea that we need to be all things to all people, maybe even all things to just some people. Bad idea. We can’t do it. Best if we just be who God created us to be in all of our glory and all of our limitations and all of our bumps, bruises, and beauty.

As to the second, we do well to remember that new relationships bring newness to everyone in the relationship. Rather than expecting someone new to conform, we would do well to listen closely to the gifts, the longings, the heart, of the new person with the expectation that they will change us as much as we will impact them. We do well to expect traditions to change (because they always will anyway…even our most beloved traditions were brand new innovations at some point along the way.) You can’t expect spiritual renewal if you can’t recognize that “new” lies right in the middle of it.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, look at us, face to face. Invite us to take down our masks so that we might be truly seen. Look us in the eye and remind us again how much you love us. Remind us again and again that you will never let us go. Perhaps then we might have the courage to put our masks away for good and see the faces, the real faces, of those you will reach through us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


2 Responses to “Matthew 23:13-15”

  1. Tim McGee Says:

    Great reminder. Thanks. While it’s always more fun to consider that Jesus was poking those in authority, he was also poking us. Darn! Gotta do better!

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    Let us all agree to remove our “masks” and reveal our authentic selves. I am grateful that my Lord alone knows me inside and out. May his promise to always love me give me the courage to show my true self to others, and to accept the same from them.

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