On the first two days of Holy Week, Jesus has called into question the authority and power of both the Roman Empire and the Jewish religious institutions. On Palm Sunday he rides into town on a donkey declaring that he is Lord and Caesar is not. On Holy Monday, he cleanses the temple revealing that he is Lord of this space and is the true temple, the tangible presence of God in the world.
As Tuesday rolls around, the religious leaders – The Pharisees and Sadducees – begin to push against what Jesus is doing. They begin to question his authority, his theology, and ultimately his divinity. At times, Jesus answers their questions. Other times he forces them to answer his questions.
This question and answer session ends with a brutal rebuke of the devout Jews and the institutions they have created and idolized. Jesus leaves no doubt that the hypocrisy, legalism, and lack of love displayed by the devout Jews will have no place in the Kingdom of God.
The tone of this rebuke is best captured in Matthew 23:23-24 & 23:27-28:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
In these passages Jesus reveals the heart of his audience. The religious leaders are so focused on the works of the law and the outward appearance that they have missed the whole point. The law was to lead people to love their neighbors, to be just, to offer mercy, and remain faithful. However, the religious leaders had used the law to oppress, create excessive burdens on the people, and reject and judge anyone who fell short.
What is needed is a new heart or a rebirth. The entire person needs to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus and the Jewish authorities refused this truth. The law given by God, which should have led to transformation, had been perverted and used for wickedness.
Where do we see ourselves in this? How have we used our faith, our morals, or our ideas to create pain or division in the lives of others? How do our traditions work against the things God has called us to?
And what do we do about this?
We must always return to the beginning of the gospel call. Jesus enters the ministry with the proclamation, “Repent for the Kingdom is near.”
As we see ourselves in the hypocrisy of the religious leaders that Jesus rebukes, we must respond to what Jesus is always proclaiming. Repent and live as people of the Kingdom.
Only Jesus can give us a new heart, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we can live into the new life he has called us to. We are not left in our hypocrisy. Jesus has given us new life and he is calling us to live it well.
May we be a people who respond to the conviction of Jesus with humble repentance. May we denounce pride and arrogance and submit the new life Jesus has created for us and within us.