Certainly, if they were living lives that were in some way unrighteous, Jesus did not excuse them of their actions. Indeed, he pointed these things out to them and even reprimanded them.
However, if they were sincerely looking for freedom from the
things about their lives in which they felt trapped, he explained to them the
way to do it. This he did with gentleness and patience. This was the manner of
Jesus if the people were honest with him.
You may think
it odd, but the group of people for whom Jesus had little patience were the
religious leaders of the day. Although there were some notable exceptions, this
group of leaders, whom we primarily know as the Pharisees and the scribes, were
not interested in seeking an honest truth. They were interested only in a
self-righteous appearance. They wanted merely to be the recipients of
admiration by the society of their day and perhaps to enrich themselves.
It was some men from this latter group who gathered around Jesus one day in order to find some fault with him.At the time that they did this, Jesus was very popular with the ordinary people. The popularity that Jesus had was upsetting to these religious leaders. Not only were they jealous, but they were also upset with him because he would point out to these self-righteous people some of their own hypocrisy. Because of all of this, the reason that they usually came to Jesus was because they were looking for some way to discredit him.
Clean Hands, Dirty Hearts
So it was in the
seventh chapter of Mark, when the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus, they
were looking for a way to bring disgrace to him. As they arrived, they saw that
Jesus and his disciples were eating with unwashed hands. It was not that their
hands were dirty, necessarily, but it was that they were ceremonially unclean.
had put in place an elaborate system of ritualistic cleansing that was to be
done with great display and formality. This was meant more for showing their
devotion to ritual than it was for hygiene. They were upset that Jesus and his
disciples were not following this tradition.
leaders asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition
of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:5)
As I said, it
may not have been that the disciples’ hands were dirty. It was more the fact that
they were unclean according to their tradition. However, I also should say that I would not be
greatly surprised that their hands may have been a bit dirty. Most of these men
were fishermen. They were laborers.
Men who are
accustomed to manual labor also get used to not having things so clean when
they eat. When it is lunchtime, they often wipe most of the dirt off their
hands and onto their jeans, and sit down to grab their sandwich.
I grew up on a
farm and I am no stranger to manual labor. My growing-years were before the
time when machinery did most of the dirty work. When I was a boy, our own hands
did much of the work. It was manual labor, and our hands got dirty!
Many times when
we were at work far from the house, we carried our lunch. Most often in these
situations, to wash our hands cleanly was simply not practical. At these times,
we did as I described above—we wiped the dirt off of our hands the best that we
could and sat down to eat.
A few times we
had company from the city with us—our cousins or friends. I did notice that the
kids were a bit taken back by the uncleanliness of our eating situation. This
was great fun for us farm kids and gave us the opportunity to tease them about
being so finicky.
So may this
have been the situation with the hands of the disciples when the Pharisees
commented about the cleanliness of the disciples’ hands. It is a possibility
that their hands were a little dirty. But even if this was so, this aspect was
not the main concern of the Pharisees. They did not care about the health of
Jesus and the disciples. The main concern of the Pharisees was ceremony, not
I know this
because of the response of Jesus to their concern. Jesus did not tease these
men as we teased the city kids. Instead, he called the Pharisees hypocrites. He told
them, “Isaiah was right about you. He prophesied about you saying, ‘This people
honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they
worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Jesus then added, “You ignore the commandment of God so that you can teach the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8)
Modern Day Pharisees
What Jesus was
telling these people was that by their ceremonial washing, they were attempting
to hide the filthiness that was within their lives. This is hypocrisy.
At another time
Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You
clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence”
The sad part
about all of this is that the hypocrisy of religious leaders is not so
surprising to us. We also see this in our own day. In fact, it seems even to be
quite common. Church leaders with large media organizations are eventually
found to be living lives that are completely at odds with the message that they
are preaching. Or even more grievous, the very ones who are supposed to be
teaching the people righteousness are themselves committing indecent acts even
against the people that they have vowed to protect.
sickening, and we get tired of hearing about it. Hypocrisy is especially
disgusting in people who make a great outward show of self-righteousness, but
inwardly their lives harbor an evil lifestyle. Also in the day of Jesus, these
confrontations that he had with the religious leaders were not uncommon.
occasion, a Pharisee asked Jesus to have lunch with him. When they sat down to
eat at the Pharisee’s table, the religious leader also noticed this time that
Jesus did not go through the ritual of cleansing his hands according to
He commented about it.
Jesus said to him, “You Pharisees like to clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? If you would pay attention to those things that are within, everything would be clean for you…
But woe to you Pharisees! For you
love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to
you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without
knowing it.” (Luke 11:39-44 ESV)
Unfortunately, this hypocrisy goes beyond mere ceremony. It harms other people—innocent people! As we see in the instances in our own day that I cited. For the people who are violated or wronged, it can scar them for life. It is not only the perpetrators, but the victims carry the burden of the wrong done to them to their grave.
Rejecting God’s Commandment in Favor of Man’s Traditions
This is the
very thing that Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees. He told them:
You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother;” and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.”
But you say, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’” (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do. (Mark 7:9-13 ESV)
by Jesus requires a bit of explanation: Part of honoring one’s father and
mother, as God commands, is being responsible for their care in their old age.
However, this presented a problem for the religious leaders of the day, since
they saw that the money that might otherwise be given to the temple and to them
was sometimes instead used to support the elderly.
To avoid this
situation, they proclaimed that if a son should declare this portion of his
money “Corban,” that is, if he would give this money to God (and by extension
to the temple and to the religious leaders), that son was free from the
responsibility of caring for his parents.
Their hypocrisy in this case had a very hurtful effect on society. The elderly were left abandoned. Unfortunately, this was not the only situation where the Pharisees ruled against the way of God in order to benefit themselves, for as Jesus told them, they did “many such things.”
Righteous in our Own Eyes
We tend to
shake our heads in disgust about these Pharisees who would convince people to
give money to them instead of supporting their own parents. Likewise, when we
hear of another leader of the church of our own day who has been found out to
be living a sinful life, we are repulsed by him.
hypocrites!” we say.
take these examples of extreme duplicity that I talked about, and compare them with
our own lives. When we do that, in our own eyes we suddenly seem quite
righteous. It is often much to our own delight that we feel this way. We come
to think that perhaps we are not as bad as we thought that we were!
If you sometimes find yourself doing this, beware! This is actually the first step of hypocrisy.
The Hypocrite Within
I do not care
how bad you are, you can always find someone that is worse than you are—at
least, he or she is worse in your own estimation of them. The difficulty is,
that person might be looking at you and thinking the same thing about you!
Paul says that when we measure ourselves by ourselves and when we compare
ourselves with others, we are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
This is the
great danger in living a duplicitous life. It is startling and it is distressing
what great evil the human spirit can harbor within himself if he is allowed to
project a respectable lifestyle to others. Again quoting Paul, “It is
disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret”
(Ephesians 5:12) Adulterers and rapists, swindlers and murderers, child
pornographers and molesters—all of these have the ability to put on righteous
masks in public.
what makes it possible for an evil person to live with himself. As long as he
or she is able to appear righteous to others, these hypocrites are able to
exist in their daily lives. But the difficulty is, in living this way, they
never deal with the great evil that they harbor within their spirits.
This is the
dark aspect of hypocrisy. If there is something about your life that you are
harboring deep within and you are afraid that it will one day come to light,
you need to bring it to Jesus. The true fact of the matter is, it will indeed one day come to light.
often of the coming judgment. He once said, “All who are in the grave…shall
come forth. Those who did good deeds to the resurrection of life, those who
committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).
Come to Jesus. He will make you clean now.
Hypocrisy and Respectability
There is another
aspect of hypocrisy that may not have the same dire effects as those things
that I have mentioned, but they are destructive nonetheless. This form of
hypocrisy is fueled by the desire to want people to think that we are more
righteous, or in some way better than we actually are. We put on airs, as we
say. This form of hypocrisy comes because we all desire to be respected by
The truth be
told, who among us cannot look at our own lives and also see a bit of this kind of
hypocrisy? In one way or another, we all want be respected and accepted. I
cannot say that this inner need of ours is necessarily a bad thing, since we
all have a desire to belong. It is just that we should learn to go about it in
the right way.
I am not saying
that instead of trying to appear more righteous than we really are, we should
hang out our dirty laundry for all to see. But if we are to be honored, it is
not we who should seek to bestow this honor upon ourselves. Rather, it should
be God who does this. If God wishes to point out something about us as
exemplary, he will do it through others or through situations that he brings to
Jesus spoke to
this inner desire of ours to be honored and respected. One day when Jesus was
invited to attend an important meal, he noticed that some people where
positioning themselves so that they could sit at the most respected places of
honor at a table.
He said to
them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast (for instance), do
not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be
invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give
your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the
lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that
when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will
be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” (Luke 14:8-10
respectability is something that we all desire.
“But what if
this never happens?” you may say. “I have tried to not promote myself and the
good things that I do, and still no one recognizes anything about me.”
If this is your
situation, I am sorry to hear about it, but again, you are not alone. Perhaps
all of us feel this in one way or another. Perhaps all of us have done things, helped
out, or tried to keep our lives pure, and no one seems to notice or to even
care. As you might expect, Jesus also speaks to this when talking about a
hypocritical life. He says:
“Beware of practicing your
righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you
will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)
This is the other aspect of the final days and the judgment of our works. Not only will those hypocrites finally be called upon to pay for their sins, but those who have done well will receive the rewards prepared for them by the Father.
We can choose
how we are to receive our reward for doing right. You might prefer to choose it
now and receive some instant gratification. It feels good—at least for a little
while. But if you are looking for something that is more enduring than a
medallion around your neck, or a congratulatory phone call from the president,
listen to what the New Testament writer James has to say. He tells us that
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the
Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”
Jesus said of
his second coming to earth, “I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to
give to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12)
This is an honor that will endure. The lesson is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:8 ESV).
it—do you truly want a congratulatory phone call from the president? Rather than
that, let the honor that you seek come from God.
How about this
instead—the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all
that there is, one day after your life of work is over, putting his hand on
your shoulder, looking you in the eyes, and saying, “Well done, you good and
faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23)