Against False Piety and Religious Hypocrisy
One hallmark of the prophet Yeshua`’s teaching were his sayings against false piety and religious hypocrisy. Those who worshipped God with false piety had been condemned by the Israelite prophets of days gone by. Yeshua` criticised the people of his day for the way they practised their religion. Unfortunately, because what he said were directed to his fellow Jews, and referring directly to Jewish culture, modern people think that he was cirticising Judaism, when in fact, he was crticising false piety and religious hypocrisy.
Yeshua`’s sayings on False Piety
Yeshua` said, “Beware of hypocrites, who do their deeds in order to be seen by others. For they make their prayer-boxes broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honour at festivals and the best seats in the synagogue. They love to be greeted in the market place, and acknowledged when they go up to the Temple. But when you do your deeds, expect no reward or salutation, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (S.Yesh. 55:2-5)
These kinds of people are not only found in Judaism, but all religions. These are the people who merely say the required prayers, attend services, follow the required customs, pay their respect to religious teachers, but their hearts are far from God. They angrily condemn others, judge others, look down their noses at the poor, and act without any sense of compassion, and in their daily dealings act without mercy. We constantly hear of preachers who only know how to belch out words of fire and condemnation; if their hearts were for God, they would speak with love and compassion.
This aspect of religion harms the reputation of the holiness of God. True religion is to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). When a so-called religious person acts only upon the externals of their religion, and ignores the heart of what God’s teaching is about, then they misrepresent God.
In modern times, if we have a person who goes to church or synagogue every week, who listens attentively to sermons, attends all the important holy days, but their heart lacks any kind of compassion for the unfortunate, has no understanding for people’s problems, and refuses to even try to be helpful to those in difficulty, then those such people might as well not have any religion.
Yeshua` spoke of these people when he said, ‘Not everyone who calls out in God’s Name, saying “Adonai! Adonai!” will find the kingdom of God; only those who do the will of their heavenly Father.’ (S.Yesh. 108:2)
The Prophet Isaiah said, “These people have approached me with their mouths, and honoured me with their lips, but have kept their hearts far from me; their worship of me has been a human commandment they have learned by rote.” (Isa 29:13)
Then there were Yeshua`’s sayings against religious hypocrites. These were people who said one thing, and did another. They were – are – people who spoke against sin and immorality, and did the very same thing themselves. They use fear, threats and spiritual blackmail to force their followers into accepting their beliefs, but behind everyone’s back they do the very things they speak against.
We all know the story of the woman caught in adultery. Traditionally, the men who drag the adulteress before Yeshua` are supposedly Pharisaic scribes and elders. However, I think there are two reasons why this action cannot be attributed to the Pharisees. Firstly, this behaviour is descriptive of the actions of a bunch of young hotheads, and is an uncharacteristic way for Pharisaic teachers to behave; and secondly, Pharisees – especially those from the school of Hillel – would probably have agreed with Yeshua`’s actions. The young men were therefore probably Zealots.
The men in the story drag in a woman who was caught “in the very act of adultery”. Now, if we go into this a bit deeper we might ask: Had these men been lying in wait, combing and scouring Jerusalem for a genuine adulteress to shove in Yeshua`’s face? I think that this is highly unlikely!
The men say that “the Torah of Moses commands us to stone such a woman”. They are referring to Leviticus 20:10 which says,
“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbour – both the adulterer and the adulteress must surely die”.
A question now comes to mind at this point: if the woman was caught “in the very act of adultery”, and if the adulterous man also has to be stoned according to Torah, then WHERE’S THE MAN? Where’s the adulterer in this act? Surely if these Zealots for the Law were strict in their application of it, then surely the man should have been dragged along here as well! I suspect that the adulterer was there, and was in fact the very person making the accusation before Yeshua`. You can imagine this man is VERY angry indeed: at Yeshua`, at the woman, AND at himself.
He says, “But what do YOU say?” He goads Yeshua`. He’s on a high, he’s on a rush of adrenalin and emotion, and he demands an answer. But Yeshua` does nothing. He just sits down and draws in the dust with his finger. I suspect Yeshua` does this to give himself time to think. He can see in the man’s eyes that he is not going to give up. But perhaps too, he suspects that this man is the one who committed the act of adultery with the woman.
There’s a dilemma here: should he expose the man, and if he does, will it do any good?
So Yeshua` picks up a stone, stands up and says to the man, “Let him who is without sin among us be the first to throw a stone at her”. Yeshua` knows the man cannot stone the woman, and the man is deflated emotionally. I can imagine this young man going away afterwards to a quiet corner by himself, and breaking down over his own hypocrisy.
True religion has no time for the fiery, condemnatory style of hypocritical preachers, who have no compassion for human vulnerability. On the other hand, true religion lifts up the efforts of the ordinary men and women of humility who try to live good, decent lives, but make the occasional mistake; it shows the boundless mercy of God.