Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” Matthew 23:13-26
Too often we look for signs of success and goodness from the outside. We easily trust the beautiful and the flawless and easily suspect the lumpy, inconsistent and human. And all too often the church has chosen leaders who have great credentials and are fetching, never looking any deeper than the outside. As leaders in the church, we are invited today to look at out insides, the stuff we would rather hide from the world and which God sees all too clearly.
Jesus challenges the religious leaders of his day constantly. He asked them to put themselves through a thorough examination and he knows all too well how corrupt and selfish they are. There is no humility or compassion, only greed and competition. Our present world, and too often our present church, could be described in exactly the same way. We are called to regular, daily self-examination, checking for the signs of selfishness and confessing our real selves to God. God has already promised to love us completely, and we are called to learn to love ourselves as well, by living as our true selves, humble and unashamed of the challenges that make us real.
Today I ask God to help me face my real self and offer my life to the service of others. May we take the time to look inside, cleaning out that which has bound us, setting us free to love and serve others.