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23 “How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. You ought to give a tenth but without forgetting about those more important matters. 24 You blind guides! You filter out an ant but swallow a camel.
25 “How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of violence and pleasure seeking. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup so that the outside of the cup will be clean too. 27 “How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs. They look beautiful on the outside. But inside they are full of dead bones and all kinds of filth.
There were genuinely good Pharisees (e.g. Gamaliel in Acts 5:33-39). But sadly, as scholar N. T. Wright said, “There were many, probably the majority, who went along for the ride, or particularly for the political agenda the Pharisees adopted…. when it came to the actual spiritual and moral struggle to make the inside of the house match the outside, they hadn’t even begun.” * It was to them, eager to look good outwardly while ignoring justice, peace and faith, that Jesus spoke so prophetically.
Lord God, I always check my clothes and my hair in the mirror to make sure I look good. Make me a person who is even more interested in being good than in looking good. Amen.
I thought I knew what hypocrisy was for most of my life. Turns out I had a very shallow understanding. I grew up in the church, so moral principles like “let your yes be yes and your no be no,” or “be authentic—don’t act one way in church and another way at school,” were a big part of my upbringing. To me, being a hypocrite meant living out your faith enough to appear godly, without actually putting in the work to be godly—and that’s true, to an extent.
However, I learned a deeper meaning of hypocrisy when I discovered that many of the “God fearing” Christians I grew up with were willing to speak or sing about the ways of Christ…things such as justice, peace, and faith…but that’s very different than living a lifestyle of justice, peace, and faith.
To some, justice was a great concept, so long as it was for the people group that was deemed worthy of justice. For the other people groups, there was only silence.
To some, peace was a lovely idea at Christmastime, but if anyone dared to present a new way to obtain peace, well, that was a step too far. The status quo that might favor one person and dehumanize another should remain to “keep the peace.”
To some, faith was to be exercised, but only enough to maintain established positions of power, complacency, and comfort.
So I learned that hypocrisy wasn’t just keeping promises and being real…it’s a choice to stay safe when Jesus calls us to live not a safe life, but a good life.
Pursuing justice means being uncomfortable and using your sphere of influence to stand up for someone when wrong has been done to them. We are on the side of righteousness for all people in all situations, as was Jesus.
Living at peace means not being satisfied with the status quo, but shifting situations and systems and breaking down barriers until peace reaches everyone, not just us. Jesus offers peace to everyone, that means we offer peace to everyone.
Exercising faith means working toward being so much like Jesus that our own servanthood helps us see the ways we can use our influence to share Christ’s love and saving grace in any way we can.
It’s a tall order, but this is our task. This is our calling. These are the “more important matters” from Matthew 23:23: justice, peace, and faith.
There is work to be done, my friends. Let’s do it!
* Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 106-107). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
** William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew—Volume 2, Chapters 11–28 (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 294.
***Comment on Matthew 23:27 in NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.