Jesus’ Woes, Pharisees, and Hypocrisy
This passage often feels uncomfortable. Were all Pharisees hypocrites? Why is Jesus so hard? Two things: “Woe” transliterates a Hebrew word expressing grief more than anger: “Alas.”
Second, “hypocrisy” in English means insincere pretence, when a person covers known problems with play-acting piety. For Jesus, it’s not pretence, rather an emphasis on external obedience to God that blinds people to the fact that no inner change or devotion is present. It’s self-deception that sincerely misses the point of really loving God and loving neighbor, of justice, mercy, faithfulness. They are “externalists.” That’s the tragedy (‘Alas’): their chosen approach to the law brings correct external practice, not inner transformation. This is their built-in blindness (like the log in the eye, Mt 7:3) – even to God’s real purposes.
Jesus rebukes them like a prophet. He is not out to destroy them. Rather he instructs the crowds to learn from their teaching of scripture but critique the way they implement it.