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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Woe to You

Jesus has some very direct and harsh words for some of the people he meets throughout his public life. And there are many things Jesus says in the Gospels that I would not want him to say to me personally.

Many of these were directed at the Scribes and the Pharisees. We have spoken already about the Beatitudes, where Jesus presented a series of sayings that began with, “Blessed are you…” In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus presents a series of Beatitudes in reverse, a series of sayings that begin with, “Woe to you…” There are seven teachings in this series, here we are going to focus on just one. A similar set of sayings are directed to everyone in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:24-26).

Today’s difficult teaching is…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.”

This is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 23, verses 25 and 26.

The definition of woe is a condition of deep suffering from distress, misfortune, regret, affliction, or grief. The definition of a hypocrite is a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs and values.

We have all been guilty of pretending to be something or someone we are not, or something more than who we are, and we know when we are doing it. Today’s difficult teaching is a stern reminder of something we know in our hearts, and that is that these types of behaviors lead to misery and affliction.

What’s critical to understand is that Jesus isn’t saying to the Pharisees I am going to inflict woe on you. He is not cursing them with affliction and misery. So, what is he saying? He is simply saying that those types of behaviors inevitably lead us to a state of woe, an overwhelming misery and distress. It isn’t something Jesus is going to do to the Pharisees, or something he wishes upon the Pharisees, it is something the Pharisees are doing to themselves. He is just pointing it out, like an obvious statement of fact. He might as well be saying 1 + 1 = 2. The same is true of the Beatitudes. He is simply saying, these types of behaviors lead to these types of blessings, and these other types of behaviors lead to these types of woes.

As always, the choice is ours.

Mathew Kelly

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