When Godliness is Unlikely
J P O Rourke wrote, “Cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely.” This quote highlights the lives of most people that I talk to while on the golf course or at the coffee shop. They will say things like, “I just try to do what I can with what I believe,” or, “I do good things and I hope that outweighs the bad.” These comments really hurt my heart when speaking with these people and I do my best to communicate God’s truth to them. Part of that truth comes from what Jesus says to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Let’s start by looking at Matt. 23:25-26:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”
Jesus’ words seem a bit harsh and they are. He looks at these people who have been teaching the Jews and see through their charade. He uses an analogy about dishes to highlight his point. Imagine looking at a plastic cup and seeing that it is clean on the outside. I would imagine that if the outside were clean the inside must be clean as well. I pour myself a cup of ice cold water and as I am taking a sip I find hair, dust and mold in my cup. That is similar to how the Pharisees were. On the outside they look holy, good and righteous. They have beautiful garments and they are always praying in the public square. They are “clean” but they are not godly. Now let’s look at an even more stunning shot at the Pharisees from the mouth of Jesus in verses 27-28:
““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
If Jesus’ words in the previous passage were a stiff right hook then these words would be the upper cut that KO’s the Pharisees. Jesus sees right past the beauty and elegants the teachers are trying to convey and exposes them for what they really are…dead. Notice the words Jesus uses, “you are like whitewashed tombs.” Whitewashed tombs were colored white to mask the death contained inside the tomb. Who in their right mind would want to see the death contained by the tomb? Not too many. Of course, the Pharisees knew that people would never follow someone that claimed to be holy but on the inside was, “full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness,” and so they masked the death that was contained in their lives. The whitewashed tomb analogy holds another meaning though but this time it is not for the Pharisees but for the people around them.
In the time of Christ touching a tomb was considered an act that would render a person unclean for seven days. Jesus uses this as a warning to the people sitting under the teachings of the Pharisees. If the teachers are unclean then their teachings may be unclean thus making the follower unclean. Jesus points this out even more clearly in Luke 11:44, “Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
So, J P O Rourke may have been on to something when he came up with his famous quote. When godliness seems to be out of reach people stive for cleanliness but they will always fail. Man cannot be clean simply by taking care of the outward things but by looking at the inside and exposing what needs cleansing. I pray that you and I wont be like the Pharisees by pretending to have life on the outside and be dead on the inside, but rather, be alive and clean on the inside and let the outside follow after.