This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
American lunatic gets piece of Scotland to play with
27 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous,30and you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”31Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.32Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.33You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?*34Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town,35so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.36Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.<!– 37 –>
The Lament over Jerusalem
37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!38See, your house is left to you, desolate.*39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
Scholars suspect that Matthew’s tradition of Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisees is influenced by events after 7o AD when the Pharisaic Rabbis took charge of Judaism in the wake of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans. They became stricter in their intepretation of Judaism and made it a heresy to follow Jesus as messiah. Believers were expelled from synagogues and may have suffered other disadvantages. For this reason perhaps, the Pharisees are constantly depicted as hypocrites in the gospels. Jesus’ invective, nevertheless, does characterise a particular kind of religious temperament: fussy legalism on matters connected with religious observance combined with carelessness on matters of justice and compassion. In Christianity over the centuries there have been sufficient examples of “pharisaism” to show that Jesus’ warnings apply to all religions and not just to Judaism. In my own tradition, hypocrisy has been evident in prioritising biblical literalism to the excluson of the love of God. Indeed, when I examine myself, I realise that the line between hypocrisy and honesty runs through my life rather than to one side of it.
All we can hope for is that our hypocrisy is not stubborn and that we can always hear the motherly voice of God’s wisdom calling us into her inclusive love. (Jesus image of the mother hen is consonant with the image of Lady Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, Chapter8).
Provided we apply Jesus words to ourselves there is nothing to stop us using them as a criterion for estimating the worth of religious behaviour. In the light of Jesus’ words, the characters of those who stone adultresses while grovelling before promiscuous tyrants or of gurus of esoteric spirituality who drip with wealth, will seem depressingly familiar. Once one has developed a nose for false religion one will seldom get far from its stink.