TO PUT AN END to His enemies’ insidious heckling, Jesus asked:
“What do you think of Christ? Whose son is He?”
He seemingly addressed His question to the entire gathering, but He was aiming at the Scribes and Pharisees present. When they replied that they believed Him to be David’s son, Jesus said:
“How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thy enemies the footstool of thy feet’? If David, therefore, calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?”
His questioners were silent. Only the mystery of the Incarnation could explain how Christ was at once God, and hence David’s Lord, and, through His Davidic ancestry, a man and David’s son. Thereafter they dared not question Him, but Jesus rebuked them publicly before His disciples and the crowd in the most caustic of His recorded speeches. They were blind guides who were turning the whole nation from the path to salvation, and in this last public address Jesus showed clearly to the people how empty and vicious these “leaders” were.
“The Scribes and the Pharisees have sat’ on the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, that they command you, observe and do. But do not act according to their works; for they talk but do nothing. And they bind together heavy and oppressive burdens, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but not with one finger of their own do they choose to move them. In fact, all their works they do in order to be seen by men; for they widen their phylacteries and enlarge their tassels, and love the first places at suppers and the front seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the market place, and to be called by men ‘Rabbi.’ But do not you be called ‘Rabbi’; for one is your Master, and all you are brothers. And call no one on earth your father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters; for one only is your Master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
“But woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men. For you yourselves do not go in, nor do you allow those going in to enter.”
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you devour the houses of widows, praying long prayers. For this you shall receive a greater judgment.”
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you traverse sea and land to make one convert; and when he has become one, you make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.”
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound.’ You blind fools! for which is greater, the gold, or the temple which sanctifies the gold? ‘And whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is upon it, he is bound.’ Blind ones! for which is greater, the gift, or the altar which sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar swears by it, and by all the things that are on it; and he who swears by the temple swears by it, and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God, and by Him who sits upon it.”
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you pay tithes on mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, right judgment and mercy and faith. These things you ought to have done, while not leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat but swallow the camel!
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but within they are full of robbery and uncleanness. Thou blind Pharisee! clean first the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside too may be clean.”
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you are like whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear just to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! you who build the sepulchers of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the just, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been their accomplices in the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you are witnesses against yourselves that you are the sons of those who killed the prophets.”
“You also fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents, brood of vipers, how are you to escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, behold, I send you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them you will put to death, and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from town to town; that upon you may come all the just blood that has been shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the just unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. Amen I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thou who killest the prophets, and stonest those who are sent to thee! How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but thou wouldst not!”
“Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see Me henceforth until you shall say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “
Meditation: It would be hard to imagine a more stinging condemnation of a leader than Christ’s denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. But, before we think of His accusations against them, we can look with profit on His first words: “All things that they command you, observe and do.” They were the legitimate authorities, unworthy of the office though they may have been. And Christ was not preaching disobedience to them. Am I willing to respect legitimate authority, even when I cannot admire the person who exercises it?
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 209-212. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.