Woe is a groaning expression of pain. Jesus, full of disappointment,
felt that pain. So did the humiliated scribes & Pharisees. To avoid
these woes, get real.


"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: For you shut
the kingdom of heaven against men; you neither go in
nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
Woe to you!
For you devour widows' houses, and for a
pretense make long

"Woe to you, for you travel land and sea to win one proselyte
and make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Woe to
you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the
temple, it is
nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the
temple, he is
obliged to perform it.'

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites? For you pay
tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the
weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.
guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You cleanse
the outside of the cup, but inside you are full of extortion
self-indulgence. You are like whitewashed tombs which
appear beautiful outwardly but inside are full of
dead men's bones
and all uncleanness.

"Woe to you because you build the tombs of the prophets
adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we
had lived
in the days of our fathers, we would not have been
partakers in
the blood of the prophets.'

"Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the
condemnation of hell?"

                                                      Matthew 23:13-33 NKJV, condensed


If you don't like hypocrites, you're in wonderful company; Jesus
didn't like to see pretense on the program either. A hypocrite
is a play actor who pretends to be something he or she is not.
The word was originally used to describe Greek actors who
spoke through masks during their performances.

This text is harsh. It's a severe beating. Jesus didn't use blistering
language when speaking to the crowds or his disciples. He never
called the Romans "the sons of hell," nor condemned the
notorious sinners of his day to eternal judgment. His words of
woe and shame were saved exclusively for the hierarchy of
religious leadership!--a fact we must not miss.

The scribes were scholars and experts of the Law of Moses. The
Pharisees separated themselves from ordinary people by their
dress and habits. They were a religious sect who built a fence of
rules around the many individual laws, supposedly so people
would be in less danger of disobeying them. The scribes and
Pharisees knew more about the holy Scriptures than anyone else,
but ironically didn't seem to know much about God.

The seven deadly sins, according to Jesus, are full of hypocrisy.
Here's his list:
    1) Blocking the doorway to the kingdom of heaven.
    2) Taking advantage of the poor and vulnerable and using
            religion as a cover up.
    3) Spreading one's own evilness through proselytizing.
    4) Manipulating the rules and being honest only when under
            binding oath.
    5) Highlighting lesser laws while neglecting more important
    6) Looking good (righteous) on the outside but being filthy dirty
    7) Honoring dead prophets while destroying the current One in
            their midst.

There are some interesting parallels between the happy message
of Jesus on that special hillside by the sea in Galilee at the
beginning of his public ministry, and this woeful utterance near
the end at the temple in Jerusalem. In the beatitudes, Jesus
opened up the kingdom of heaven to all. In this text his enemies
are closing the door and locking it. The hunger and thirst for
righteousness in the earlier days is replaced with the deceitfulness
of hiding one's sinfulness behind a religious camouflage.

Blessings on the pure in heart, the merciful, and the peacemaking
children of God were bountiful in the countryside around
Capernaum, but are in short supply among the leadership at the
Passover festival in the capital city. Here at the end of his ministry,
we recognize the persecutors who shamefully make life difficult
for the very ones Jesus commended--the poor in spirit, the meek
and those who mourn. Blessing leads to life and happiness; woe
is a warning that disaster looms ahead.

How does it happen that people who start out with such lofty
intentions can end up so corrupted? Jesus called them blind
guides, leading everyone into the ditch. He said they strain out
the pesky gnat, but then turn around and swallow a camel! They'll
serve you a drink in a glass that looks beautiful on the outside,
but inside it's full of crud. And they didn't have a clue. What is it
with these people! They seem to be carefully following their
sacred writings, but in reality it's all show and no substance.

Jesus was talking to those who governed the temple in Jerusalem
and those who provided leadership at their local houses of
worship. They couldn't see their sins any better than we see
ours. From the little brown church in the vale to First Church
on the metro, our prayer needs to be, "Lord, show us our sins
and our hypocrisy."

What do we look like to others? More importantly, how does
God see us? Jesus gave these religious leaders a gift that was
hard to take. So they didn't say, "Thank you." Neither did they
show signs of repentance. The pronouncement of woes
knocked them off their pedestal and onto the ground where
they connived against Jesus like a brood of poisonous snakes
with fangs unfurled. Their venom silenced his lips, but the
truth lives on.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker:  Do you enjoy putting on a mask?   Why or why not?    
                       Share a story about wearing a mask.


Make a list of words you associate with authenticity and another
list of words you associate with hypocrisy.
            Are all the words on the first list positive and all the words
                     on the second list negative?  
            Whether yes or no, what does this tell you?


Do we today still hide our sins behind religious rituals?
            Where and how do you see evidence of this?
            Do you do privately what you claim publicly?
            Do you practice daily the words you profess at your house
                    of worship?
Is there anything about our liturgy which can't be carried over
into daily living?


In Paradise Lost, John Milton claimed that hypocrisy is "the only evil
that walks invisible, except to God alone."
             Do you agree with Milton?   Why or why not?
Why are religious people so susceptible to the charge of hypocrisy?


Go down the list of the woes expressed by Jesus and give examples
of what these sins look like in real life.


Jesus was being very honest when he told the scribes and Pharisees
what they looked like to him.
            If Jesus did the same for you, would you be grateful or offended?
            What are some things you think Jesus might mention about you?
When have you been grateful to someone who told you the truth
even though it was painful to hear?


Jesus didn't say these things directly to the face of the scribes and
Pharisees. He said them to the crowd, within hearing of the scribes
and Pharisees.
            Why would he choose that method for delivering this message?
            In the midst of all the seriousness, do you see anything comical?
            What role does humor play in truth-telling?


Seven woes for seven days--do some soul searching. Take one woe a
day for the next week and use it for personal reflection and prayer.
            When have I closed the door of God's kingdom in someone's face?
            When have I taken advantage of a vulnerable person and
                    pretended like it was nothing?
            I spread my own evil by . . . .
Continue this pattern for all seven woes.

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