Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Matthew 23: 23
The harshest Gospel of Holy Week is no doubt the one read Holy Monday evening. It is very easy to hear the frustration of Christ as He sat with the crowds, castigating the temple elite. Some people hear anger in the voice of Christ. I hear sadness actually.
Rules and laws exist to make us free, not to make us slaves. There is a law that says that we can’t go into a person’s how and steal his belongings. Those who do that go to prison. If we didn’t have that law, none of us would feel free to leave our homes every day. There is a law that tells us to stop at red lights. If we didn’t have this law, none of us would feel free driving. Laws exist to help us feel free.
The Law of the Old Testament was given to Moses by God in order for there to be some sense of order among the people. God wanted to clearly spell out His expectations, and also to give His people some guidance in how to conduct themselves in the temple, in the practice of their faith, in their worship, even socially, how they were to conduct themselves. There were laws about marriage, children, food, etc., all given to help the people feel “free.” The priests and elders of the temple were charged with helping people follow the Law, teaching it to them, and mediating disputes about the Law between people when that came up.
Instead, being “guardians” and “custodians” of the people, these people became like taskmasters to the people. They abused the Law and they abused the people under the Law. Instead of helping the people live freely under the Law, they would “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” (Luke 23:4) The people lived in fear of the temple elite. Instead of representing a God of love, they represented a God of fear. God is a God of order, there is nothing wrong with some order. Without order, there is chaos. But they took order to a new level. Instead of worshipping God, they worshipped order. Instead of presenting God as a loving God, they presented God as a strict God, whom only THEY were in good stead with.
And so Jesus castigated them, saying “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” multiple times. Perhaps the most poignant is Matthew 23:23, where He says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” There is nothing wrong with tithing. A tithe is an offering of ten percent of whatever we have to God. We are supposed to do that. We are supposed to do that freely and lovingly actually. When we give in order to get our name on something, we are “giving” hypocritically, because in reality, we are “exchanging” something for recognition.
If we are generous with our giving of certain things, and stingy with other things, we are also hypocritical. As an example, if we cook great meals for our children but we constantly berate them, that is hypocritical. If we give our ear to a friend who is sad, and then turn around and gossip about them, that is hypocritical. If we preach love and then out of our mouths comes hate, we are hypocritical.
Christ did not tell His followers to throw out Law and order. Rather He simplified the Law and told His followers that His law is a law of love. We are to lead with love. We are to speak the truth in love. We are even to correct others with love. We are supposed to be encouragers, not overlords.
The Gospel of Holy Monday evening is not the most uplifting, that is for sure. The hymns later in the service shift our focus to the Parable of the Talents, which is part of the Gospel for Holy Tuesday morning’s Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. They remind us that everyone has a talent—some will be wise, some will lead worship, some will be teachers, others will give to the poor, according to one of the hymns. The talents also come with responsibility to use them. And accountability if we do not.
The icon of the Bridegroom will again be the focal point of the service this evening. As we gaze upon it, let us reflect on our faithfulness. Are we faithful Christians, or hypocritical ones? Does what we do match what we say? Does our behavior reflect what we believe? I can say I believe in God, or feel like I am a faithful Christian, but is that really reflected in my life? How do I act when I’m not in church? Or when no one is around? Am I generous when there is no credit to be had? Am I using the talent God has given me to glorify Him and help others? These are serious questions. Use tonight’s service to meditate on them.
Come, you faithful, let us eagerly work for the Master, for He distributes His wealth to His servants; accordingly then, let us increase the talent of grace. Let one, be graced with wisdom through good works; let another, celebrate a service of splendor; let another, faithful to the word communicate this to the uninstructed; and yet another, distribute wealth to the poor; for thus, we shall increase what is entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of His Grace, we may be worthy of the Master’s joy. Of this, deem us worthy, O loving Christ, our God. (From the Aposticha of the Bridegroom Service on Holy Monday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
We all need to work on being more genuine and less hypocritical!