William took the reprimand from his grandmother gracefully. Apparently leaning down to chat with his young son during the Royal Air Force demonstration could be construed as disrespectful. So William straightened up when he saw the flick of his grandmother’s hand, and all was well again. It’s not everyone, of course, whose grandmother is the Queen of England.
When Matthew records Jesus speaking to a crowd, we get a chance to eavesdrop in on a reprimand. It would have been an unforgivably embarrassing rebuke because it was directed at the religious rulers of Jerusalem of the day. They had clout. Their control over the Jewish people was undisputed. No one challenged the Pharisees and the teachers of the law because the people assumed their leaders had the backing of God. But Jesus saw things differently.
“Do not do what they (the Pharisees) do,” Jesus warned the people publicly, “for they do not practice what they preach.” Ouch. That was a public reprimand no one had ever dared to deliver to the Pharisees before.
“Everything they do is done for men to see.” But Jesus was not content to warn only the crowd. Seeing a band of Pharisees striding toward Him, Jesus began a scathing chastisement that would make Queen Elizabeth’s reprimand of William look like gentle kindness.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Jesus began. Imagine how that went over. The crowd would have hushed. The Pharisees would have stopped dead in their tracks. There was no doubt the people were watching a delightful contest of power where the bullies were being put in their place for once.
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence,” Jesus challenged them. “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
Jesus said much more of that sort of thing in that moment. Read Matthew 23 and gloat to hear the status quo being challenged by a voice of real authority. But we cannot read too far before we notice something beginning to happen. The relish with which we hear someone else being reprimanded begins to turn to dust in our mouths. Our smugness evaporates.
We, too, live much of our lives “for men to see.” We are experts at presenting our best face, going out in public looking the part, wearing a façade to make ourselves appear as we want to be seen: trendy, intelligent, exclusive, ethical, self-assured. Choose the adjective that fits.
But Jesus calls this fraud (see Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of “Woe to you…you hypocrites!” in The Message). God sees the interior. He knows each of us for who we really are, and He sees the mess we hide deep inside our hearts and minds. He is telling not only the Pharisees but us too that something must be done to clean up our interior or we’ll become nothing more than “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones…”
“Keep me from deceitful ways,” penned the psalmist David, “be gracious to me through your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” The psalmist is not talking about the external law of Judaism, or about social laws, or about politically correct conventions. He is referring to God’s moral requirements for us as humans that we be authentically honest with ourselves and with Him. It means accepting the truth of God’s sovereignty not only in the vastness of this universe but also in our day-to-day lives. It means recognizing that we don’t make reality and we don’t make the rules. It means seeing ourselves through His eyes, humbling ourselves and asking His forgiveness for our misplaced pride.
Ultimately only God can clean the inside of our ‘cups’ and keep them clean. It takes the daily work of Christ’s once-for-all redemption and the Holy Spirit’s transforming power in us to do the otherwise impossible task. The reprimand is not intended to bring humiliation, but humility. Are we willing to listen to it? What better time than this to have an honest conversation with God…