Jesus Denounces Pharisees and Lawyers
37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
42 ‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 43Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. 44Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’
We saw conflict in the last passages – now the conflict escalates. There were rituals that went with eating a meal in Jewish society, and we see glimpses of those throughout the gospels. Here, we see that Jesus is eating with the “right sort”, a Pharisee, so he is not accused of eating with sinners. But he does not adhere to the Pharisee’s habit of ritual washing before meals. This washing has nothing to do with cleanliness, but is a ritual to which the Pharisees hold, like how many steps one could walk on the Sabbath. Of course, the Pharisee notes that Jesus does not perform the ritual, and is “amazed”. But Jesus says to him that the rituals the Pharisees adhere to are outer things, like washing the outside of a cup; but that inside – in their hearts – they are filled with greed and wickedness; that is what needs cleaning. God made them as whole beings, not just shells – they should give of themselves, from the inside, from the heart, and then everything will be clean.
And he adds, “Woe to you, Pharisees”, saying that they tithe in the small things, bunches of herbs or spices, while in their hearts they neglect justice for the poor and fail to love God. They act like religious people, pretend to think that God is most important. They should add to their tithing and keeping the law the love of God and justice. Instead, they crave the seat of honor in the synagogue and want to be honored in the marketplace. They want to be known as the “most religious” people; they want to broadcast that they are better than their neighbor. Their hearts are selfish; their failures are great – they are already dead within, as if in a tomb that was not yet marked as such. Their hearts are full of darkness, the light of their souls is out.
We can be like that – there are many who claim to follow Christ whose hearts harbor hate instead of love. But that is not to be Christian; following Christ is not about washing the outside of the cup, claiming to be better than anyone else, adhering to ideologies that are not really Christian; following Christ is about loving our neighbor – and our enemy.