In Matthew 23:23-28 Jesus lights up the Pharisees and the religious leaders about their hypocrisy.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First, clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
They have the appearance of righteousness but on the inside are full of wickedness… wow, this is such an indictment against the religious leaders! The Pharisees and the religious leaders were always concerned about obedience to the law but had no concern for the burdens they were inflicting on their fellow Jews.
For example, the basic laws concerning the Sabbath were “do not work and do not build a fire”. By the time of Jesus, they had added another 3000 rules to clarify what would be considered work and what wasn’t.
Just a few verses earlier in chapter 23 Jesus says 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
The definition of a hypocrite is someone who has the appearance of being what they are not. Jesus does not condemn their obedience to the law, but he does condemn them for their treatment of others.
Love Justice, love mercy, be faithful
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Or Amos 5:21-23
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
Righteousness like a never-failing stream
In our western culture, we view justice through our lens of understanding, defining it as getting the proper punishment for a crime that has been committed. But Biblical justice centers on the positive, correct or fair treatment of others. Isaiah ties justice to the rightful treatment of the oppressed, orphaned and widowed in 1:16-17. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Of all people, the Pharisees and religious leaders should have known this, but how they appeared on the outside was not how their hearts were on the inside. Obedience without care and love for others is like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Learn to act justly, show mercy, and this is how we are faithful as disciples of Jesus.