Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets' blood.' Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out!”
In today's Gospel, we read the last two of the seven "Woes" which Jesus said of the Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus said: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth." Given Israel's rocky landscape, graves were not easy to dig. Instead, bodies were frequently laid to rest in caves or tombs carved into the rock, which could be sealed with a big stone at the entrance. When only the bones were left the family removed them and put them in an ossuary, leaving the tomb to be used by another family. According to Jewish law, stepping into cave with a body would make them religiously unclean, and be denied access to the Temple. People who are unclean would As a result, the tombs and caves were painted white so that they would stand out. This way people can avoid stepping into a tomb inadvertently.
Jesus used this analogy to describe the Pharisees and scribes because they put on an external show of religious perfection down to the tiniest detail but inside their hearts and minds were full of pride and hatred and contempt for their fellow-men. It was epitomised in the story that Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray. “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector here,” was the sanctimonious prayer of the Pharisee. The greatest sin of the pharisaical is their sheer blindness, the inability to see themselves for what they really are. It can happen to any of us.
Jesus also condemned them for their pride over the tombs they have built in memory of the prophets and other holy people. They congratulate themselves that, if they had been present, they would never have partaken in the actions which brought persecution and death to the prophets. Yet here is Jesus, the prophet of all prophets, whom they are preparing to kill. In the last verse of our reading, Jesus tells them to go ahead and complete the murdering of the prophets, referring to what is going to happen to himself.
The more committed we are to our Christian faith and to the behaviour that it expects, the greater the danger that we, too, can fall into the same trap and see ourselves on a higher level than others whose behaviour we deplore and perhaps even attack. May the light of the Holy Spirit shine upon us, to save us from falling into this trap.