Matthew 23:1-36; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 11:37-54
Jesus pronounces woes on hypocrites (Greek: hypokritḗs, “actors” or “mask-wearers”), those who are not heading in the direction they should and, by their horrible example, are obstructing others from heading to heaven as well. Jesus seems to be indicating the intent of their hearts more than their actions. These men Jesus was condemning had no intention of even trying to see the light. They were unwilling to repent of their sin or see things as they really are. In his words, “they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4).
The hypocrisy Jesus is calling out here is not falling short of our ideals, or what we should do. Everyone falls short of what we ought to do. It is having a determination to head in the opposite direction of where we ought to go while appearing as if we are just and true that Jesus calls to our attention.
They make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments
From the student study guide we read the following regarding phylacteries: Phylacteries are small boxes containing written verses from the scriptures, which some Jews wore on their arms or forehead. This tradition was based on counsel given to the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 6:6–8. The reference to “borders” of their clothing was a tradition of putting tassels on the hem or corners of clothes in remembrance of God’s laws (see Numbers 15:38–40). Those who wanted to be seen as especially righteous “enlarged” the part of the clothing that had the tassels so they were very noticeable or they wore very noticeable phylacteries.
We had a discussion regarding ways that teenagers call attention to themselves in order that they may appear better to those around them. The discussion focused much on what we wear, but there are many ways we manipulate our appearance to others. At issue is what is in our hearts. The Pharisees that Jesus was calling out had no intention on following the lawgiver right in front of them. Hypocrisy is so easy to identify in others, but by examining ourselves, we see ways that we try to appear better than we really are.
The following quote from Robert J. Matthews brings home the way the Savior feels about this kind of hypocrisy:
There is not a single case in the four Testimonies that ever presents Jesus as impatient, critical, or unkind to people who were humble, teachable, and willing to change their lives. He forgave transgressions and he mingled with publicans and sinners on condition of their repentance. He cast out devils, healed the lame, raised the dead, fed the hungry, opened the eyes of the blind, gave hearing to the deaf, and restored the sick to health, if they only had the faith that he could do it. But he was a terror to the workers of iniquity and to the deceptive, the self-righteous, the hypocritical. In dealing with the repentant he was the gentle yet firm Messiah. To the proud, the haughty, and the arrogant, he was absolutely indomitable and irrepressible, and a constant threat to their craftiness.1
Compared to the widow who put her two mites into the treasury, these self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes who would reject their Savior had to learn that it is more important to be good on the inside than to appear good on the outside.
1. Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah, p. 226