In Matthew 23:13-33, there are recorded eight woes that Jesus pronounced upon the “scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus is harsh in his criticism as he unloads on his antagonists.
The danger is that we can read these woes in a way that is not helpful or appropriate.
If we take an us/them approach to these woes, we are likely to see the woes aimed at “them” and see ourselves above such behavior.
The irony in this thinking is that it is exactly the attitude of the Pharisees.
A story from the Gospel of Luke illustrates this:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”(Luke 18:10–14, ESV)
Be honest with yourself – what is your first reaction when you read this story? If you are like me, your first reaction is to think, “thank God I am not like that Pharisee.” Thus proving that I am exactly like that Pharisee.
Praise God that he has worked in us to move us away from such hypocrisy, but we would be well advised to remember that we are constantly in danger of being pulled into the gravitational pull of Phariseeism.
Rather than reinforcing our feelings of superiority, the woes in Matthew 23 should be used as a mirror to show us our trajectory apart from the Holy Spirit working in us.
It may be an unwanted mirror, but it is an accurate one.