How can you tell if someone is real or fake, genuine or counterfeit? Outward appearances can be deceptive. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11:3-4).
The heart reveals the true intentions and attitudes that form the way we think of others and treat them. Jesus used strong language to warn the religious leaders and teachers about the vanity of outward appearance and pretense – wearing a mask that hides the true intentions and thoughts of the heart.
In Palestine tombs were often placed by the sides of roads. They were painted white which made them glisten in the midday sun, especially around the time of the great feasts, so that people would not accidentally touch them and incur ritual impurity.
True beauty and goodness come from within.
Jesus equates true beauty and goodness with a clean heart and mind that is set on God and his way of love and goodness and sin with a corrupt mind and heart that is set on doing what is wrong and evil. Jesus issued a stern warning to the scribes and Pharisees not to condemn them but to call them to examine their hearts in the light of God’s truth and holiness. Jesus called them hypocrites because their hearts were set on pleasing themselves rather than God. A hypocrite is an actor or imposter who says one thing but does the opposite or who puts on an outward appearance of doing good while inwardly clinging to wrong attitudes, selfish desires and ambitions, or bad intentions. Many scribes and Pharisees had made it a regular practice to publicly put on a good show of outward zeal and piety with the intention of winning greater honors, privileges, and favors among the people.
Sin is ugly because it corrupts heart and mind
Jesus warns that what truly corrupts a person is not external ritual impurity but the impurity of wrong and sinful attitudes that come from within a person’s mind and heart – such as pride, greed, sloth, envy, hatred, gluttony, and lust – these are what produce sinful habits (vices) and ways of speaking, acting, judging, and treating others. That is why every good deed is beautiful in God’s sight and every wrong or sinful deed is ugly in his sight. The scribes and Pharisees were intensely religious in their outward observances, but their outward show didn’t match the inner reality of the state of their minds and hearts. They not only neglected the poor and the weak, but they were intolerant towards anyone who challenged their idea of religion. That is why so many of the prophets in past ages – who warned about tolerating evil desires and unjust behavior towards one’s neighbor – were persecuted and even killed by their own rulers and people.
Jesus chastised the religious leaders for being double-minded and for demanding from others standards which they refused to satisfy. They professed admiration for the prophets who spoke God’s word by building tombs in their honor. But their outward show of respect did not match their inward refusal to heed the prophets’ warning to turn away from sinful attitudes and from neglecting to lead their people – through teaching and their own example – in God’s way of love and holiness of life. They shut themselves to heaven and they hindered others from growing in the knowledge of God’s truth and goodness. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah because their hearts were blinded and hardened to the voice of God.
True beauty, goodness, and piety come from within – from a heart that is set on pleasing God and a mind that is set on hearing and obeying God’s word. Jesus came to set us free from slavery to sin and harmful habits and addictions that lead us into wrong and sinful ways of thinking, acting, and relating to others. Only the humble of heart can receive from God true wisdom and understanding, pardon and healing. The Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew our minds and hearts and to lead us in God’s way of love and holiness. Ask the Holy Spirit to purify your heart and mind and to fill you with the power of God’s love and goodness.