Avoiding hypocrisy

Avoiding hypocrisy August 21, 2022

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

The Gospel

“It’s a judgment on you, educated people, religious leaders—Pharisees—hypocrites! You lock people away from the Realm of what is Right (the Kingdom of Heaven). You yourselves haven’t gotten in—and you don’t let people in who are trying to get in.

It’s a judgment on you, educated people, religious leaders—Pharisees— hypocrites. You might travel all over sea and land to make a single convert. Then when that happens, you make that person a Child of junk twice what you are.

It’s a judgment on you, blind guides! You say, ‘If somebody makes a holy vow as a promise, it means nothing at all, but if somebody pledges for a religious collection—that person must make the payment. Blind fools, which is greater, a collection or the prayer-place that makes a collection worthwhile?

You say this, too: ‘If somebody takes a sacred oath, it doesn’t mean much; if somebody makes a pledge to donate, that person is obligated.’ You blind people! Which is greater, a donation, or what makes the donation sacred?

  • Anybody who promises by what is sacred promises by sacredness and what is associated with it;
  • anybody who pledges by a place of prayer pledges by it–and by the Person worshipped there.
  • anybody who takes an oath by “heaven”—the Realm of what is Right—takes that oath on the throne of God and by the One Who sits on the throne.”                                                                                                                   (Matthew 23) [my translation]


Jesus is addressing hypocrisies —actors who do one thing and say another person’s words, a mask-wearer who is not what the mask says.

He is addressing their religion and religiosity. They wear a mask of religious righteousness, but in practice they live the business of their lives without the love of God. Hypocrites lack the nuclear power of love— the love of a faithful child of God. We are hearing a series of woes about their behavior—how they practice a religion that lacks love.

Words for Eternity

In this section of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus seems to be confronting just his religious leaders. It is what these people are doing wrong when it comes to the kingdom of God. But his words are for eternity – for your and my permanent transformation from what everybody tends to do wrong. What people do wrong continues to this day, and Jesus is offering food for thought, reflection for prayer, and consideration for repentance.

The First Woe Or Judgment

The first “woe” or judgment which Jesus confronts is that religious leaders, too often, direct people away from the kingdom of heaven – in a way, locking it away it so that people cannot get into it. Once we include ourselves (leading ourselves), you and I may question whether I hinder others from the kingdom of God?

Perhaps we emphasize good works, church attendance, saying of prayers, and reading Scripture. These are all good works, no doubt, and worth doing. This emphasis of Jesus is a twist on that. You and I may be failing to emphasize the love, compassion and forgiveness needed to be the heart and soul of these activities. A person’s religiosity, efforts at conformity rather than unity and community, and unconscious superiority may actually deny the very thing we want to have happen. You are keeping others away from what is vital.

The Second Woe or Judgment

The second “woe,” or mistake worth condemning, concerns the importance of the influence people have on one another – people you may want to influence to your way of faith and love – to win a convert to what you believe in as the kingdom of God.

As a follower of Jesus, your influence depends on your authentic love for them. That love includes your respect for who they are, their back story, their readiness and interest. It is not for you to judge their difference as sinful and wrong, but to offer them care and your example. You may call them, but the grace of God wins them.

The Third Woe or Judgment

The third “woe” concerns practical connections with your church-community, with the rules and commitments involved. What Jesus suggests here is that occasionally, and perhaps too often, you and I replace inner faith with a veneer of religion. We may replace love with activities, and even the love of Jesus with habit.

This third “woe” suggests how easy it is to do religious activities. We carry out duties, commitments, and, yes, customs rather than with that ever-fresh love Jesus requires. Sometimes we forget. Love is the reason we go to church, the reason we pray, and the reason, in the end, that we have faith.

Always Remember the Bond of Love

It is the bond of our love for God – so much like the bond of marriage. Let’s use use an even more vivid image. Our loving seems more like an umbilical cord needed between us and God as a source of life-giving nourishment. To do things because you have to or because you used to shortchanges all that love.

Forgiving others, being kind, respecting differences, are all the surface of the ocean of love that a follower of Jesus is developing throughout life. Prayer, church attendance, and good works of charity have value. They, however, are exhibitions of the inner love we exercise in God’s world and in God’s name. And it is love and the constant exercise of loving that enables the permanent joy which is the kingdom of heaven.

About Joris Heise
Joris Heise, now 85, is a retired Scripture teacher, who spent years teaching special ed at Roth, an inner city school in Dayton Ohio. Living now in Central Illinois, he spends time in prayer, penance and joy. In the Franciscan tradition, he keeps learning the love of God from others and from nature. He writes poems, loves his family, and hopes to contribute to a better future.. You can read more about the author here.

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