Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Humility, Servant Leadership
Volume 7 No. 441 October 13, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections

Bible Passage: Matthew 23:1-12 Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees
23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' 8 But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Hypocrisy of the Pharisees Part I: The Larger Context of Matthew 23:1-12

by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, Washington

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Although the gospel text is from Matthew 23:1-12, it seems wise to preach on spirit of the entire chapter. The focal word is the word "hypocrisy." The "woes" against the Pharisees are found in Matthew 23:13-36.

The Larger Context of Matthew 23:1-12

Teachings Against The Religious Leadership

After the cleansing of the temple, there are several consecutive stories against the religious leadership. (Synopsis of The Four Gospels, Aland, pp. 237-253))

The religious leadership consisted of the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes and others in authority.

  • Jesus curses the fig tree.
    The chief priests and scribes seek to destroy him.
    The fig tree is withered (symbolic of the Pharisees)
  • Jesus teaches in the temple with authority and challenges the Pharisees.
  • Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants (Pharisees) who killed the servants (prophets) and also the Son (Jesus) of the owner. Jesus teaches that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you (Pharisees) and given to people who produce the fruit of it (the tax collectors and prostitutes)." When the Pharisees heard these two parables (the two sons and the wicked tenants), they tried to arrest Jesus.
  • Jesus tells the parable of the Marriage Feast where people offered flimsy excuses not to come.
  • The Pharisees seek to entangle him in a debate about not paying taxes.
  • The Sadducees try to entangle him in a debate about the resurrection.
  • A lawyer of the Pharisees try to entangle him in a debate about the great commandment.
  • The Pharisees seek to entangle him in a debate about the Messiah and his origins.
  • Jesus teaches his disciples about the phoniness of the Pharisees (Matthew 23).
  • Jesus' laments over Jerusalem.

We remember that these religious leaders:

  • Loved their religious traditions more than God and neighbor.
  • Loved their interpretations of the Old Testament more than God and neighbor.
  • Loved their money more than God and neighbor.
  • Loved their political power more than God and neighbor.
  • Loved their religious power more than God and neighbor.
  • Talked a good line but did not live it.
  • Were the epitome of hypocrisy.
  • Were blind to God, God's love, God's Word, God's truth, and God's Son.

Each individual section needs to be read as part of the whole section. The teachings in this section are persistently against the religious leadership.
e.g. the Pharisees perceived that Jesus told this parable against them.

We recall the parable/teaching of The Fig Tree. For Jesus, the barren fig tree was leafy but had no fruit. The barren fig tree symbolized the Jewish religious leadership of Jesus' day. These religious leaders talked a good religious talk and used all the right "buzz words" and clichés but did not put their words into actions in their daily lives. The fig tree symbolized the Pharisees who appeared healthy and leafy (like a fig tree) but produced no fruit of love.

Today, this fig tree symbolizes any Christian life which talks the talk but does not walk the walk. The apparently healthy fig tree without fruit symbolizes an apparently healthy Christian life that does not produce actions and behaviors that God wants from us.

The tree looks healthy but it is not. A religious life looks healthy but it is not. A Christian can use all the right buzz words, read the Bible, attend church and do all the churchy things but lives a life that does not demonstrate the love of Christ in daily actions.


The Life of Christ: A Study in the Four Gospels
Synopsis of The Four Gospels, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 135-137.

Hypocrisy of the Pharisees Part II: Woes to The Scribes And Pharisees

by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, Washington


Matthew 23:1-36;
Mark 12:37b-40;
Luke 20:45-70

All three gospels cover teachings of Jesus regarding the hypocrisy and hardness of heart of the Pharisees.

In Matthew's gospels, Jesus' words are enormously confrontational. His words drip with intensity and scathing indictments. His words are consistent with his mood during the cleaning of the temple that we studied earlier in the previous lesson.

The following phrases reach a climax of intense anger towards the Pharisees.

-They preach but they do not practice.

-They lay burdens on others shoulders but they do not lift a finger to help.

-They do all their deeds to be seen by men.

-They love the places of honor at feasts and greetings in the market places and being called rabbi.

-The greatest among you is to be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. Whoever humbles himself, will be exalted.

-Woe to you scribes and Pharisees for you shut the kingdom of heaven. You do not enter the kingdom and you prevent others from entering it.

-Woe to you Pharisees, you blind guides, you blind men.

-Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe on the trivia but neglect the weightier issues of law, justice, mercy and faith.

-Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for outwardly you appear beautiful but inwardly you are full of dead men's bones.

-You are the sons of those who have murdered the prophets.

-You serpents and brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?


The Life of Christ: A Study in the Four Gospels
Synopsis of The Four Gospels, Kurt Aland, English Edition

Hypocrisy of the Pharisees Part III: Gospel Analysis

by Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, Washington

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

-Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples

Jesus was not only addressing his disciples but the crowds as well. This debate and confrontation had been going on with these Pharisees from the earliest days of Jesus' ministry and was now reaching the boiling point.

-"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat.

The scribes and the Pharisees pretend that they have the authority of Moses. They pretend that what they do is the Law of God. The Pharisees imply that their words and actions have the authority of none other than Moses. There may have been an actual seat in the synagogue which was the teaching place for the local rabbi.

-Therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

This was the essential problem.

This particular text from Matthew 23:1-12 does not use the word, "hypocrite" but the text is all about hypocrisy. A sermon on this text needs to be about "hypocrisy."

The Pharisees were a bunch of phonies who did not do what they preached.

We recall the woes. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites."

Focus on the word, "hypocrite." This whole section of verses in both Matthew and Luke is a commentary on Isaiah 29:13,

"This people honors me with their lips (talk a good talk), but their hearts are far from me."

The big issue in Jesus' day was hypocrisy, especially as embodied in the lives of the Pharisees.

An important issue of our day is still hypocrisy.

The word, "Pharisee," was synonymous with the word, "hypocrisy."

We recall Mark 7:7 when Jesus spoke against the Pharisees, "Well did the Isaiah's prophecy of you hypocrites."

This was a very personal and direct confrontation and condemnation. Circle the word, "hypocrites," and write the word, "actor." The Greek word for hypocrite means "actor."
Sometimes, when seeing a play, an actor or actress is incredibly believable in their role. The actor or actress seems so authentic, so genuine, so real that it is hard to comprehend that it is all "make believe." So it is with many people of faith: on the outside and the showy parts of their lives, they give a good performance of being a Christian, but it is all "a front." Inside, their hearts are far from the love of God/Jesus and neighbor.

-They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

We remember that the Pharisees counted and they counted 613 laws from the Old Testament that the people were to do in order to live lives that were pleasing to God. By focusing on these 613 religious rules and regulations, the Pharisees neglected the weightier issues of love and justice.

The lawyers and Pharisees had developed laws for every situation.

These social regulations appeared to be religious; but from our perspective today, these social regulations (in the name of religious law) were profoundly ridiculous. For example, we recall the Pharisaic laws that regulated the observance of the Sabbath. The Pharisees taught laws that the Jews could not pick grain on the holy Sabbath nor heal a sick person on the holy Sabbath. The lawyers among the Pharisees developed laws that interpreted what it meant to do work on the Sabbath. All of these social regulations added up to immense burdens on the Jews for their day-to-day lives.

We recall Jesus' earlier teaching about the yoke of the Pharisees.

The yoke of the Pharisees was heavy. That is, the Pharisees placed enormous spiritual burdens on common people's spiritual shoulders by telling others that they had to follow through and obey these 613 rules and regulations from the Old Testament, 613 rules and regulations that they tried to obey when others were watching.

Imagine the weight of your religion on your shoulders if you thought that you were "religious" only if you obeyed all those 613 rules from the Old Testament. What a heavy load. Imagine if you could not pull your oxen out of a mud hole on the Sabbath because it was against God's law.

-They do not eat unless they purify themselves.

This sentence is an example an burden that has been imposed on the common people. We recall an incident in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus was locked in verbal and theological combat with the Pharisees who noticed that Jesus' disciples did not ritually and ceremoniously wash their hands before meals. The disciples did not properly purify themselves, according to the customs of the Pharisees. "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders." (Mark 7:3) Focus on the phrase, "tradition of the elders," and remember the "Mishnah." The Mishnah was the oral traditions and oral laws of the Jewish elderly leaders e.g. Hillel and Shammai. The oral traditions were not the laws of the Torah, not the laws of the Law of God, not the Ten Commandments. Rather, these were the traditions that had evolved over time. The Pharisees loved to do them.

A tradition in the ancient Jewish faith was that the Jews were to wash their hands before meals, with a cup of water the size of an "egg and a half." The Jews were to hold their hand down, with fingers pointed downward, and drip that cup of water down their wrists and the water was to run off their fingertips. This was a tradition that had become holy and sacred and was to be done by all "good and faithful" Jews before mealtime. We can easily visualize the Pharisees ceremoniously pointing their fingers downward and letting the water drip off their fingers…as if such behavior was holy.

The Pharisees would eat when they were properly purified.

There are many other traditions which they observe: Underline the phrase, "many other traditions." Yes, the Pharisees had many traditions which they observed, traditions which were written down in the Mishnah.

Today, in our Christian faith, we also have our traditions.

We learn to love the "old traditions" that are part of our Christian faith. We love the "old favorite traditions" of Christmas, Christmas hymns, Easter, Easter hymns. Most congregations (and individuals) have numerous traditions that are not part of their constitution, by-laws, or any legal documents. Nor are these numerous traditions part of the Scriptures or even our denominational heritage. Rather, within the congregation, there are traditions that become holy, sanctified, and "don't you mess with our way we of doing things around here." In other words, don't mess with our traditions. In fact, too many Christians will hold fast to our human traditions more than the commandments of God to love God and love one another.

The washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.

The Pharisees were good at washing the outside of cups and pots and not the inside. After the word, "washing," write in the phrase, "the outside." In other similar teachings of Jesus, he emphasized that the Pharisees were good at washing the outside of cups, pots and other vessels.

At our house, the washing of dishes is a situation for potential conflict between my wife and myself. I like to wash the dishes but hate to dry them. As an experienced dishwasher, I am keenly aware of how easy it is to wash the outside of cup and plates. But it is another matter to wash the inside of kettles that have been used for cooking. The insides of those kettles and cooking dishes are occasionally blackened or crusty hard from the heat on the stove. Far too often, I will say to my wife, "Let's let the kettles soak for a while and then they will be easier to wash." My wife pulls out the scrubber and indicates for me to go to work and do the hard work of cleaning the insides of the pots and pans.

The Pharisees were similar: that is, they wanted to do the easy work of looking good on the outside and looking good in their public behavior.

They did not want to repent and clean out the burnt crud from the insides of their lives. In other words, they did not want to repent and "be washed clean on the inside." (as was demanded by John the Baptist). They were not willing to address the extortion, greed, rapacity and wickedness that were inside their inner hearts.

-They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.

This was the fundamental motivating principle of the Pharisees. They loved to be seen by others. They were attention getting showoffs who tried to show off their religious manners and behaviors.

Phylacteries were made of leather. They were leather pouches with Bible verses from the Old Testament in them. We recall God's commandment in Deuteronomy 11:18, "You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead." The Pharisees wore these leather boxes on their foreheads and arms. Phylacteries were easy to see and proved right away how religious and devout you were. Common people like shepherds and fishermen did not wear them.

We talk about "wearing your religion on your sleeve." The Pharisees literally wore their religion on their foreheads and arms for everyone to see.

They also liked to wear long tassels.

Again, it was a means of showing off how religious they were. This is another example of them maximizing the minutia of the law and minimizing the great commandment for God and neighbor. From Leviticus 15:37-39, "The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes."

The essence of the religion of the Pharisees was to maximize the minutia of the mandates from the Old Testament and to minimize doing mercy, kindness and justice (the love of God and neighbor.)

We realize that Jesus had a fringe on his garment and that a woman touched the fringe and was healed.

-They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

How we can see these Pharisees in our minds. They loved to have places of honor at banquets. We all know where the places of honor are at the banquets we attend. The Pharisees always wanted to be up at the front table. They also had the best seats in the house, there at the synagogue. We know the best seats in the house at basketball games and football games and concerts. The best seats in the house are the most expensive and most of us never sit there. The Pharisees loved to be greeted with respect at the marketplace, the equivalent of our shopping mall. They loved when people greeting them by calling them "rabbi." There was a slight deference, a lilt in the language, subtle but noticeable elevation like when nowadays we are talking to someone who is obvious richer than we are. It would be like today someone being addressed as doctor, professor, pastor, president, etc.

-But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.

Jesus wanted it to be known that he was the principle teacher of life. Jesus is our teacher and we are all his students. Another word for student is "disciple."

We immediately ask the question, "Are we not to call the Jewish leader of a synagogue by the name of Rabbi (Abrahamson) when everybody else does?"

Let's proceed to the next similar teachings and thereby answer our question.

-And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-the one in heaven.

We immediately ask the question, "How about my father? My father wants to be called father. Lots of people can call my father by his first name but only we his children can call him "father." That word is sacred in our family. The word, "father," is one of the most sacred titles in the world, along with the title "mother." Is Jesus teaching us not to call our fathers "father?" Is that what Jesus is teaching?

Obviously not.

Or how about calling a Roman Catholic priest a father? That is the title of the position of a leader of a Roman Catholic Church. Father Halloran. Or Father O'Malley. Or Father O'Brien. That is the proper way to address a leader of a Roman Catholic congregation. Is Jesus telling us not to call priests, Father So and So?

Obviously not.

-Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.

Jesus wants us to know that he is our teacher, our instructor, our leader, our mentor, our guide, our shepherd.

-The greatest among you will be your servant.

And one of the greatest teachings of Jesus is that we are to be servants. The greatest Christian is the person who has learned to be a servant, to have the heart of a servant, the attitude of a servant, the actions of a servant. In the foot washing on Holy Thursday, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and shocked them all with his action and attitude of humility. Within himself, Jesus was the model servant and called us to be servants of one another.

-All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

This was the problem of the Pharisees of old and people in every generation and often people today like you and me. We want to exalt ourselves and make ourselves important. Sometimes, the greater the sense of "inferiority" inside our souls, the greater is the need to exalt ourselves and try to let other people know that we are important.

Rather than exalting ourselves as the Pharisees did, we are to be humble.


The Life of Christ: A Study in the Four Gospels
Synopsis of The Four Gospels, Kurt Aland, English Edition


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