Picture a friend inviting you over to her house for dinner, promising a sumptuous meal. Upon arrival, she directs you into the backyard and points to an old garbage can.
“Dinner’s in there, take as much as you want,” she says. “Oh, don’t worry. We hammered out some dents and put a fresh coat of paint on the outside. Almost as good as new!”
How would you respond? Would you have trouble suppressing your gag reflex? Would you suddenly announce a fast-food restaurant is calling your name? You’d probably think your friend was out of her mind, right? The outside of the garbage can might look shiny and clean, but who knows what’s been inside the thing?
Interestingly, Jesus Christ used a similiar metaphor in dealing with some of the high and mighty, holier than thou religious leaders of His day. Jesus didn’t mince words. He called things as He saw them. He wasn’t angling to become a prime example for the classic book Dale Carnegie would someday write, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
On one particular occasion, Jesus expressed how fed up He was with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, men who commanded – and demanded – reverence whenever they showed up. Several times in Matthew 23, the Lord decried how outward appearances could disguise spiritual filth lurking inside.
Can you imagine being there as He rebuked them, opening with, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!...” This certainly got their attention, but not in a good way. But just in case, Jesus switched His terminology: “Woe to you, blind guides!... You snakes! You brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:13-33). How would you react if someone spoke to you that way?
While He didn’t refer directly to a garbage can, Jesus’ message clearly conveyed the same idea: He called out these esteemed pillars of the community, labeling them as, “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
Tough words, no doubt. But let’s take a step back: Have you ever been to a cemetery where the remains of some of the deceased had been placed in tombs or mausoleums? These might be proud architectural structures outwardly, but we can imagine the decay that was going on inside. The mere thought of it grosses us out, but Jesus had no intention of sugarcoating His rebuke.
He closed by extending the metaphor, declaring, “…you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).
If we’ve read much of the New Testament at all, we’ve probably come to regard the Pharisees as the bad guys, the uptight legalists who were quick to judge everyone but themselves. So, how does that relate to us – or to people we know?
We probably don’t have to think too hard, because we’ve all encountered folks who would fit these descriptions. Individuals skilled at putting on the very best of outward appearances, ones we’ve learned from experience and observation that are very different on the inside.
Certain groups of people might quickly come to mind – entertainers, celebrities, politicians, even religious leaders today – who could be found guilty of such hypocrisy. Shame on them, right? Unfortunately, doesn’t this also describe each one of us, at least part of the time?
I’d like to think I’m the most caring, compassionate person around. And at times I’ve probably appeared that way. But I regret to admit that many times I’m not. I’d like to consider myself as “Christlike,” but my family and friends could tell you of times I’ve not been like Christ at all.
Some people excuse they’re reluctance to become part of a church family because, “The place is filled with hypocrites!” That’s true, but that just means they’d fit right in. Hypocrisy seems embedded into our human fabric.
But there’s good news! We might struggle with hypocrisy, at least at times, But Jesus offers the remedy, and it’s available to anyone and everyone willing to accept it. As pastor J.D. Greear stated recently, “Christianity is not turning over a new leaf; it’s the power of a new life. It’s not a resolve to live better but a resurrection to life in Christ.”
He probably had 2 Corinthians 5:17 in mind, which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Instead of walking around like old garbage cans disguised with a fresh coat of paint, in Christ we can become “new creations.” We can put our old selves – our sinful behavior and tendencies – behind us and living life as God intended through the power of Christ and His indwelling Spirit. Sounds better than being “whitewashed tombs,” doesn’t it?
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.