Scribes and Pharisees Likened as Walking Talking Dead

Scribes and Pharisees Likened as Walking Talking Dead


Reflection on the Gospel of the Wednesday In The Twenty-First Week In Ordinary Time

Matthew 23:27-32

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
for you are like whitewashed tombs,
which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

The things to note in the above sentence is that Jesus is definitely making a stand and expressing an opinion on the activities of the Scribes and Pharisees. And it would seem as harsh as his actions in cleaning the Temple of the Money Lenders and the traders. Here Jesus also gives a basis for this harsh comparison he is drawing.

  • First, ‘woe’ here is not a curse, in the sense that Jesus is cursing
    • rather it is the judgement and negative fruits the Scribes and Pharisees are accumulating for themselves.
  • Hypocrites
    • Meaning:
      • Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behaviour or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles.
      • Source:
    • So what is the hypocritical attitude that these Scribes and Pharisees were engaged in?
      • Self-Righteousness and Pride
        • First they claimed themselves as blameless in their pursuit of God
        • They claimed a greater relationship and right over God
        • They claimed they knew God
      • Based on this they did whatever they pleased
        • and did things for their own gain
      • Mind you this is not an absolute description of all Scribes  and Pharisees
        • because there were exceptions like Nicodemus
      • But of the negative lot
        • there were the ones who wanted to be associated with Jesus
          • but not pay heed to his words or message
          • Example is Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to a meal. (Luke 7:36-50)
        • They went around with Jesus
          • not to learn from him but to trap him
          • They wanted signs
          • They saw everything; Jesus Ministry and Works
          • Yet they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah
        • Contrast this with Simeon and Anna, in the Temple
          • at one sight of the baby
          • and they knew who He was
          • And these; the Pharisees and Scribes,
          • claimed to have a higher level of Holiness
      • This is what makes them hypocrites
  • Why is Jesus calling the Scribes and Pharisees as walking, talking Corpses.
    • They, the Pharisees were claiming to have a proper grounded relationship with God (Holiness)
      • This means they have the life and light of God in them
      • and therefore will have eternal life within them
    • But if they really did have the life and light of God in them
      • they would recognise him
      • in the thoughts around them,
      • the ideas around them
      • the works and words around them
      • yet they failed to recognise Jesus
    • That means they had no life in them
      • They did not know God
      • Nor his truth
      • Nor his Presence
    • Can a man without life in him
      • impart life to another?
      • so following them would be like following the dead.


Take stock

  • There are many around us who sit on the seat of the Scribes and Pharisees
  • Look at their fruits, not their words and actions
  • Do they unite, or divide
  • Do their words and actions, forward and accord you dignity and honour
  • Or/and do they want to make you a machine, a thing.
  • A useful tool to forward their own agenda


  • The world around us moves on what we see
  • So the biggest currency out their is marketing and projected appearances
  • just like the façade the Scribes and Pharisees projected.
  • The Drug dealer will sell you his product, saying it is the only thing to taste and thus live
  • The sinner (the one unaccepting of his own depravity) will claim that his ways have equal right and is also the truth and the way forward
  • There are many
  • Check the fruits, and check the results of the actions, in the long term.


  • When I was struggling with the dignity of man
    • Against what I noticed around me…
    • One day I found myself reading the story of Creation, in Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 3.
    • What I found there is the dignity and love Humanity was given.
    • Not as a created being, but one who was loved and for whom all creation was created, as a dowry
    • Humanity then was given the free choice to accept or reject the advances of his suitor.
    • But Humanity though accepted the dowry, rejected the one who had given it to him
    • Yet God did not back out, nor reject Humanity.
    • He promised that He would show his Love for Humanity once more in a big way
    • and the Bible says, this was done through Jesus’ incarnation.
    • i.e. God became a mere mortal (human), to save humanity.
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