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23. Seven Woes

1Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to his disciples, 2saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat: 3all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. 4Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5But all their works they do to be seen of men: for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6and love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi. 8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. 10Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even the Christ. 11But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.

13But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter 14Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, even while for a pretence ye make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive greater condemnation.

15Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.

16Woe unto you, ye blind guides, that say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor. 17Ye fools and blind: for which is greater, the gold, or the temple that hath sanctified the gold? 18And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gift that is upon it, he is a debtor. 19Ye blind: for which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20He therefore that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21And he that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22And he that sweareth by the heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone. 24Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel!

25Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. 26Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also.

27Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, 30and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. 32Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell? 34Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: 35that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

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27 You are like whitened sepulchers. This is a different metaphor, but the meaning is the same; for he compares them to sepulchers, which the men of the world ambitiously construct with great beauty and splendor. As a painting or engraving on sepulchers draws the eyes of men upon them, while inwardly they contain stinking carcasses; so Christ says that hypocrites deceive by their outward appearance, because they are full of deceit and iniquity. The words of Luke are somewhat different, that they deceive the eyes of men, like sepulchers, which frequently are not perceived by those who walk over them; but it amounts to the same meaning, that, under the garb of pretended holiness, there lurks hidden filth which they cherish in their hearts, like a marble sepulcher; for it wears the aspect of what is beautiful and lovely, but covers a stinking carcass, so as not to be offensive to those who pass by. Hence we infer what I have formerly said, that Christ, with a view to the advantage of the simple and ignorant, tore off the deceitful mask which the scribes held wrapped around them in empty hypocrisy; for this warning was advantageous to simple persons, that they might quickly withdraw from the jaws of wolves. Yet this passage contains a general doctrine, that the children of God ought to desire to be pure rather than to appear so.

Matthew 23:29. For you build the sepulchers of the prophets. An unfounded opinion is entertained by some, that the scribes are here reproved for superstition, in foolishly honoring the deceased prophets by splendid sepulchers, as the Papists now transfer the honor of God to departed saints, and even are so perverse as to adore their images. They had not yet arrived at such a pitch of blindness and madness, and therefore the design of Christ was different. The scribes endeavored to gain the favor of the ignorant multitude, and indeed of all the Jews, by this additional hypocrisy, that they cherished with reverence the memory of the prophets; for while in this manner they pretended to maintain their doctrine, any one would have supposed that they were faithful imitators of them, and very keen zealots for the worship of God. It was a proposal, therefore, which was likely to prove highly acceptable, to erect monuments for the prophets, because in this way religion might be said to be drawn out of darkness, that it might receive the honor which it deserved. And yet nothing was farther from their design than to restore doctrine, which might appear to have been extinguished by the death of the prophets. But though they were not only averse to the doctrine of the prophets, but most inveterate enemies to it, yet they honored them—when dead—with sepulchers, as if they had made common cause with them.

It is customary, indeed, with hypocrites thus to honor, after their death, good teachers and holy ministers of God, whom they cannot endure while they are alive. Nor does this arise merely from the common fault, which Horace thus describes: “We hate virtue while it is in safety, but when it has been removed from our eyes, we seek it with envy;” 107107     Virtutem incolumm odimus,
Sublatam ex oculis quærimus invidi

   Lib. III. Carm. XXIV.
but as the ashes of the dead no longer give annoyance by harsh and severe reproofs, they who are driven to madness by the living voices of those men are not unwilling, by adoring them, to make an empty display of religion. It is a hypocrisy which costs little to profess warm regard for those who are now silent. 108108     “Qui ne peuvent plus cier contre les vices;” — “who can no longer exclaim against vices.” Thus each of the prophets, in his own age, was contemptuously rejected, and wickedly tormented, by the Jews, and, in many instances, cruelly put to death; while posterity, though not a whit better than their fathers, pretended to venerate their memory, instead of embracing their doctrine; for they too were actuated by equal hostility towards their own teachers. 109109     “Car aussi ils ne traittoyent pas mieux ceux qui les enseignoient fidelement que leurs peres avoyent fait aux autres;” — “for they too acted no better towards those who taught them faithfully than their fathers had done to others.” As the world—not venturing altogether to despise God, or at least to rise openly against him—contrives this stratagem of adoring the shadow of God instead of God, so a similar game is played in reference to the prophets.

A proof of this—far too striking—may be seen in Popery. Not satisfied with paying just veneration to Apostles and Martyrs, they render to them divine worship, and think that they cannot go too far in the honors which they heap upon them; and yet, by their rage against believers, they show what sort of respect they would have manifested towards Apostles and Martyrs, if they had been still alive to discharge the same office which they anciently held. For why are they inflamed with such rage against us, but because we desire that doctrine to be received, and to be successful, which the Apostles and Martyrs sealed with their blood? While the holy servants of God valued that doctrine more highly than their own life, would their life have been spared by those who so outrageously persecute the doctrine? Let them adorn the images of the saints as they may think fit, by perfumes, candles, flowers, and every sort of gaudy ornament. If Peter were now alive, they would tear him in pieces; they would stone Paul; and if Christ himself were still in the world, they would burn him with a slow fire.

Our Lord, perceiving that the scribes and priests of his age were eager to obtain the applause of the people, on the ground of their being devout worshippers of the prophets, reproves them for deceit and mockery, because they not only reject, but even cruelly persecute, the prophets that are now present, 110110     “Et lesquels ils voyen devan leurs yeux tous les jours;” — “and whom they see before their eyes every day.” and whom God has sent to them. But it is a display of base hypocrisy, and shameful impudence, to desire to be thought religious on account of worshipping the dead, while they endeavor to murder the living.

30. If we had been in the days of our fathers. Not without good reason did Christ introduce this sentiment; for though he does not blame them for the conduct of their fathers, and does not make it the chief ground of accusation that they are the children of murderers: yet he takes a passing glance of their foolish boasting, in being accustomed to glory in their ancestors, while they were descended from the bloody enemies of God. The appeal may be thus stated: “You look upon the veneration which you pay to the deceased prophets as some sort of expiation for the wickedness of your fathers. Now then I have this to urge, that it is in vain for you to boast of a sacred ancestry, since you are descended from wicked and ungodly parents. Go now, and screen your crimes by the piety of those whose hands, you acknowledge, were stained with innocent blood. But it is an additional and far more heinous crime, that the sacrilegious fury of the fathers, which you condemn by raising sepulchers for the dead, is imitated by you in the murder of the living.”

32. Do you then fill up the measure of your fathers. He at length concludes that they are not, in this respect, degenerate from their fathers; as if he had said, “It is not now that your nation begins to treat with cruelty the prophets of God; for this is the ancient discipline, this is the custom handed down from the fathers, and, in short, this way of acting is almost natural to you.” And yet he does not bid them do what they are doing, to put to death holy teachers, but states figuratively that they have a hereditary right to rise against the servants of God, and that they must be permitted to oppose religion, because in this way they fill up what is wanting in the crimes of their fathers, and finish the web which they had begun. By these words he not only pronounces themselves to be desperate, and incapable of being brought to a sound mind, but warns simple people that there is no reason to wonder, if the prophets of God are ill-treated by the children of murderers.