Matthew Chapter 23

Do not imitate the teachers of the Law

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:

2 ※The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses.

3 So you shall do and observe all they say, but do not do as they do,

4 for they do not do what they say. They tie up heavy burdens and load them on the shoulders of the people, but they do not even raise a finger to move them.

5 They do everything in order to be seen by people; so they wear very wide bands of the Law around their foreheads, and robes with large tassels.

6 They enjoy the first place at feasts and reserved seats in the synagogues,

7 and being greeted in the marketplace and being called &Master* by the people.

8 But you, do not let yourselves be called Master because you have only one Master, and all of you are brothers and sisters.

9 Neither should you call anyone on earth Father, because you have only one Father, he who is in heaven.

10 Nor should you be called leader, because Christ is the only lead er for you.

11 Let the greatest among you be the servant of all.

12 For whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be made great.§

Seven woes for the Pharisees

13 Therefore, woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in people*s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor do you allow others to do so.

14 Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!

15 You travel by sea and land to win a single convert, yet once he is converted, you turn him twice as fit for hell as yourselves.

16 Woe to you, blind guides! You say: To swear by the Temple is not binding, but to swear by the treasure of the Tem ple is.

17 Blind fools! Which is of more worth? The gold in the Temple or the Tem ple which makes the gold a sacred treasure? You say:

18 To swear by the altar is not binding, but to swear by the offering on the altar is.

19 How blind you are! Which is of more value: the offering on the altar or the altar which makes the offering sacred?

20 Whoever swears by the altar is swearing by the altar and by everything on it.

21 Whoever swears by the Temple is swearing by it and by God who dwells in the Temple.

22 Who ever swears by heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.

23 Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You do not for get the mint, anise and cumin seeds when you pay the tenth of everything, but then you forget what is most fundamental in the Law: justice, mercy and faith. These you must practice, without neglecting the others.

24 Blind guides! You strain out a mosquito, but swallow a camel.

25 Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You fill the plate and the cup with theft and violence, and then pronounce a blessing over them.

26 Blind Phari see! Purify the inside first, then the outside too will be purified.

27 Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs beautiful in appearance, but inside there are only dead bones and uncleanness.

28 In the same way you appear as religious to others, but you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within.

29 Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous.

30 You say: Had we lived in the time of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in the blood of prophets.

31 So, you yourselves confess to be kins of those who murdered the prophets.

32 And now, finish off what your ancestors began!

33 Serpents, race of vipers! How can you escape condemnation to hell?

34 And so I am sending you prophets, sages and teachers, but you will murder and crucify them, and flog others in the synagogues or drive them from one city to another.

35 Because of this you will be accountable for all the innocent blood that has been shed on the earth, from the blood of upright Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the altar and the Sanctuary.

36 Truly, I say to you: the present generation will pay for all this.

37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You murder the prophets and stone those sent to you by God. How often would I have gathered your children together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you re fused!

38 Now you will be left with an empty Tem ple.

39 I tell you that you will no longer see me until you say: ※Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!§


Comments Mathew, Chapter 23

• 23.1 The fifth Discourse of Matthew*s Gospel begins here. Only a few days separate us from Jesus* departure from this world and it is here that Matthew places the words and parables of Jesus that enlighten the disciples on the attitude to adopt in face of the times to come. Scarcely born, the Church will have to face the for midable opposition of Jewish power, especially that of the Pharisees. She will therefore follow her own way and separate herself from the Jewish communities. This is the main theme of chapter 23. Chapter 24 declares that God will confirm this separation through the ruin of the Jewish nation. The Church, then, should turn towards the future and await the return of Christ. Let her not waste time in waiting for the end of the world but be always ready in active vigilance: this is chapter 25.


Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, to which the priests and those in charge of religious activi ties belonged. He did not, like wise, belong to any religious association, as the Pharisees did. He was on the side of the people and saw how the leaders of God*s people and the organized religious elite acted.

Obviously Matthew wants the words of Jesus to fall on the ears of important personages in the communities. Jesus judges in advance the authorities of the Church and more especially any group that sees itself the better, the more aware and the more efficacious. The Pharisees pretended to be just that, and in a sense they were.

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses. The Gospel says it with more precision: they have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. This rather ironic formula suggests that the ambitious appropriate to themselves the authority over the people of God and that to a certain point God tolerates it. Matthew, in recording these words of Jesus, wants to preserve in the Church fundamental equality. It is the whole Church that enjoys the Holy Spirit, and the heads or doctors will have no authority unless they are deeply rooted in the com munity*s life.

Paul will speak of Christ and the Church using the comparison of the head and the body (Eph 5:25). Likewise in the Church the authority of the bishop goes hand in hand with fidelity to the Church that he governs. He has accepted the Church as it is and does not seek to impose his own projects.

Do all they say. The bad example of the authorities does not discredit the word of God. Nor does it lessen the principle of authority. Their bad attitude discredits only their pretense at being superior to others. They cannot renounce their authority on the pretext of humble service and then carry out what the majority has decided.

Jesus speaks of the form of authority. Do not be called master or father. Do not be called ※master,§ the one ※who knows§ and before whom one is silent; neither must you be called ※father,§ the one who is venerated and imitated, forgetting to look directly at the One who alone is good. No one in the Church should eclipse the only ※Father.§

Doubtless everyone will say that the word ※Father§ is simply the expression of respectful affection but Jesus affirms that the word has perverse effects.

The purity of faith, which submits to God alone, always suffers because of the cult of personality. The Church should be a community of free persons able to speak frankly.

• 13. You shut the door to the kingdom of heaven (v. 13). Do not forget that ※the king dom of Heaven§ means the kingdom of God. Many teachers of the people of God are an obstacle on the path leading to the true knowledge of God the Father. Even in the smallest village, the Jews had teachers of the Law but in fact, crowds came to Jesus to ask for what those priests and teachers did not give them. How can we forget that even in the Church religious edu cation is often limited to moral compartment and keeping within religious norms? Hearing and constantly meditating on the Word of God would have favored the awakening of great am bitions: the search for God and apostolic creativity.

You say: To swear by the treasure of the Temple (vv. 16- 22). Jesus refers to the common practices in his time. Some teachers found ways to get around certain oaths. In that manner, clever people could swear falsely and deceive their opponents by swearing firmly without promising much.


How could Jesus call such men hypocrites when they were so versed in the knowledge of the Bible?

In the language of Jesus, the word ※hypocrite§ equally denotes what is superficial as well as the one who makes light of what is of God. All the Pharisees were obviously not hypocrites; but Jesus denounces a frequent deformation in the religious elite. He calls us to be wary of those institutions born of possessors of wealth and culture who aspire to direct others 每 and the Church 每 without having learned from the poor or practiced true humility.

The mystery of God is so deep that no one can present himself as his lieutenant. The Pharisees trained, taught and gained many followers in the faith but their fasts and alms were already rewarded. Pride and love of money were given their place.


• 29. We have on one side ※the prophets§ and on the other those who ※kill the pro phets.§ The Bible shows us that the pro phets meet with much opposition among the people of God and especially among its leaders.

There is a people of God and this peo ple has necessarily its institutions which help it to be faithful to its mission. In fact this people follows their reflexes and social pre judices, and the whole institution, even if born of the Spirit, becomes heavy and hardens with time. Prophets are readily condemned when they challenge peace and unity in mediocrity or even unfaithfulness to the word of God.

The Jewish peo ple, harassed by foreigners, closed ranks around the Temple, religious practice and the Pharisee group. Moved by fear, the Jews did what any so ciety would do when threatened: they became fanatically conservative and felt secure in the institutions God had given them in the past. (We are at present experiencing the same pheno menon. Our generation suddenly finds itself facing, in all areas, crises and threats for which it was not prepared; all our certitudes are questioned, and because of this we see emerging in all religions fundamentalist groups offering an appearance of safety by enclosing themselves in structures and systems of thought 每 or no thought 每 inherited from the past.)

The defenders of the Jewish community were not ready to listen to their pro phet. It was one thing to honor the prophets of the past and keep the sacred books, another to accept the criticism addressed to them by God, not in the sacred books, but from the lips of Jesus, the carpenter.

Thus it was that the prominent Jews let the moment when God visited them slip by 每 following the path that would lead their nation to ruin.

The example of the Jewish nation must serve as a warning to us. Are our Christian communities, confronted today by a major crisis, able to build a poorer and more demanding Church? Will they be less preoccupied with their personal survival rather than giving the Gospel to the world?

• 37. How harshly Jesus speaks! Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 587 B.C. If we read the prophets, we find that Jerusalem*s destruction was a punishment for its crimes. Now, Jesus announces another destruction of wider historical consequences: the blood of the prophets, the blood of Christ, the blood of the first Christians killed by the Jews.

You will be left with an empty Temple. The presence of God in his Temple would leave them once more and be established among the converted pagans, as in Ez 8. There will be no further intervention by God to establish his Kingdom in Israel among the Jewish people until the day they welcome the Christ.