"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 cummin, 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."
These warnings cluster around the temptations of institutional religion. The church can be operating prolifically in terms of "buildings, budgets and bylaws" while failing "woefully" on God's terms.
In these verses, Jesus blames the clergy for an operation that "locks people out of the kingdom of heaven." Clergy can become spiritually blind - obsessing over institutional trivia and neglecting kingdom values in favor of earthbound organizational "success." Looking good displaces being faithful.
As in yesterday's post, I appeal to lay people to pray for your clergy, and for yourselves. Sometimes the corruption comes out of the clergy ego - we want to be successful and admired. But congregations often reward the clergy for "doing things the way we like" while attacking clergy who preach the challenging message of Jesus.
Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and all the other stuff will be taken care of." All Christians need to pray for this to be the standard, for spiritual leadership and for congregational life alike.