The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
This is the fifth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.
In this woe, Jesus aptly compared the scribes and Pharisees to a cup and plate which look clean on the outside but are filthy on the inside. They were concerned how pious and prayerful they appeared to each other and to the average Jew. Yet, inside, they were corrupted by greed and excess.
Jesus called them hypocrites for this (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):
They were all for the outside, and not at all for the inside, of religion. They were more desirous and solicitous to appear pious to men than to approve themselves so toward God.
In speaking of greed and self-indulgence, Jesus was referring to their system of encouraging costly sacrifices and gifts (see the third woe links in my second paragraph). They had a racket going. John MacArthur tells us:
It all is so religious and everything in it and on it was gained by extortion …
Extortion, by the way, is the word harpage. It means to plunder or rape; they are rapists … it says they are full of extortion, and notice this word, excess. That means unrestrained desire for gain; acarsia. And unrestrained desire for gain; a lack of self-control. So the Lord is saying they appear so scrupulous. They appear so religiously meticulous. They appear so pious in their system and everything they serve you was gained with their filthy desires. Gained by the abusive people. They are greedy rapists and robbers who steal and plunder the souls and the money and the hearts and the minds and the goods of everybody they can touch.
Jesus was condemning their practice of making their racket look holy and ceremonial, when, in fact, it was an abomination before God.
Therefore, He exclaimed, ‘Blind Pharisee!’ (verse 26). They were spiritually blind to their deep sins of extortion and greed. Henry tells us:
This is why He told them, in speaking of the clean inside of the cup and the plate, to examine their hearts. A pure heart is reflected in pure thoughts and actions. Henry applies this to Christians:
Note, the principal care of every one of us should be to wash our hearts from wickedness, Jeremiah 4:14. The main business of a Christian lies within, to get cleansed from the filthiness of the spirit. Corrupt affections and inclinations, the secret lusts that lurk in the soul, unseen and unobserved, these must first be mortified and subdued. Those sins must be conscientiously abstained from, which the eye of God only is a witness to, who searcheth the heart.
MacArthur applies these verses to false teachers:
So prevalent today, the false spiritual leaders become rich, they become fat, they become wealthy with their paraded piosity and they have the heart of a thief.
Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s words applies equally to laity and false teachers. This is beautiful and true:
Observe the method prescribed Cleanse first that which is within not that only, but that first because, if due care be taken concerning that, the outside will be clean also. External motives and inducements may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy but if renewing, sanctifying grace make clean the inside, that will have an influence upon the outside, for the commanding principle is within. If the heart be well kept, all is well, for out of it are the issues of life the eruptions will vanish of course. If the heart and spirit be made new, there will be a newness of life here[,] therefore we must begin with ourselves [that] first cleanse [,] that which is within[;] we then make sure work, when this is our first work.
Next time: Matthew 23:27-28