“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.
“Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? (Matthew 23:25–33)
In continuing his condemnation of the Pharisees and other religious scholars, Jesus focused on the fact that they were more concerned with appearance than with substance. The word translated as “frauds” can also be translated as “hypocrites,” a word that we today use for those who say one thing and then do another.
For the Pharisee, too often what mattered most was how you looked. If you dressed properly and used the right jargon then you were acceptable. Religious concepts needed to be expressed with standard, “proper” phrases. To vary from the accepted wording meant condemnation. One also needed to avoid certain places and people, condemning them with the proper terminology.
Jesus pointed out it was easy to keep the outside of something looking good. But what was inside was what really mattered: in their motivations and attitudes, their thoughts and beliefs, the Pharisees were as wicked as those they were quick to condemn. When they protested that they would never be guilty of what their ancestors did, they were in fact condemning themselves. Those who imagine that they would be immune to human failure have failed to recognize that they are human themselves and subject to the same weaknesses all humans have. Thinking themselves to be strong, they too often were very weak.
Who we are on the inside, all alone, where no one can see, is who we really are. Jesus looks at our hearts, not just at what we show the world.