Matthew 23 Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees
How curious it is, I have often thought, that the Savior would perform some great miracle, then charge the recipient that they tell no one what was done (Matt 8:4; 9:30). At first glance, it would seem as if he was trying to keep his divinity a secret. After Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the disciples were told 'that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ' (Matt 16:20).
But these events all occurred relatively early on in Christ's ministry. The Lord was always aware of the timing of things-he avoided conflict with the Pharisees early in his ministry. In particular, he knew that Messianic declarations would ruffle the feathers of the established elite. He knew that an all-out conflict with the Pharisees would lead eventually to his arrest and crucifixion. Therefore, early on, Christ would avoid repeated confrontations. For example, after healing a man on the Sabbath, 'the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence...And charged them that they should not make him known' (Matt 12:14-16).
This is not to say that Jesus was avoiding conflict-it just wasn't time for his crucifixion, nor did he want to place himself in a position where he had to use divine powers to protect himself. But oh, how times changed! During the last week of his life, the Master took his long awaited opportunity to thoroughly denounce the Pharisees. In chapter 22, he had shrewdly avoided their traps and had become the incontrovertible inquisitor. Having silenced them with his superior wisdom, he now denounces their hypocrisy with scathing condemnation. Indeed, the gloves come off and Jesus lets them have it. There is no mercy for those who should have been the first to recognize his divinity. Their foul hypocrisy is dissected in every dark detail. Furthermore, Christ will no longer hide his identity. He openly admits that it is He who sends the prophets (Matt 23:34), it is he who would have gathered Jerusalem, and it is he who pronounces her judgment (Matt 23:38-39).
Matthew 23:4 they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne
"[The traditions of the Pharisees] provided for every possible and impossible case [scenario], entered into every detail of private, family, and public life; and with iron logic, unbending rigour, and most minute analysis pursued and dominated man, turn whither he might, laying on him a yoke which was truly unbearable. The return which it offered was the pleasure and distinction of knowledge, the [presumed] acquisition of righteousness, and the final attainment of rewards." (Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, p. 69)
"Our Lord and Savior was tabernacled in the flesh at a time when there was much confusion in the religious world-between means and ends, between tokens and covenants, between ritual and real religion. In addition to the 613 rules set forth in the law of Moses-248 commands and 365 prohibitions-the traditions of the elders and the commentaries upon the law had multiplied mercilessly over the generations. Sabbath observance, intended originally to be a glorious and spiritually lifting experience, had become burdensome and backbreaking. The Pharisees, in focusing on punctilious detail and minutiae, seemed bothered precious little by the painstaking labors they required. 'For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers' (Matthew 23:4). It was in such a taxing environment that the Master offered the following invitation: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light' (Matthew 11:28-30).
"Becoming a new creature alive in Christ entails our being yoked to Christ. Rebirth frees us from the bondage of sin (John 8:31-32), from the chains of hell forged through ignorance (Alma 12:9-11), from the slavery of false traditions." (Robert L. Millet, Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth, 162.)
Matthew 23:5 they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments
James E. Talmage
"Through a traditional interpretation of Ex. 13:9 and Deut. 6:8, the Hebrews adopted the custom of wearing phylacteries, which consisted essentially of strips of parchment on which were inscribed in whole or in part the following texts: Ex. 13:2-10 and 11-17; Deut. 6:4-9, and 11:13-21. Phylacteries were worn on the head and arm. The parchment strips for the head were four, on each of which one of the texts cited above was written. These were placed in a cubical box of leather measuring from 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inches along the edge; the box was divided into four compartments and one of the little parchment rolls was placed in each. Thongs held the box in place on the forehead between the eyes of the wearer. The arm phylactery comprised but a single roll of parchment on which the four prescribed texts were written; this was placed in a little box which was bound by thongs to the inside of the left arm so as to be brought close to the heart when the hands were placed together in the attitude of devotion. The Pharisees wore the arm phylactery above the elbow, while their rivals, the Sadducees, fastened it to the palm of the hand (see Ex. 13:9). The common people wore phylacteries only at prayer time; but the Pharisees were said to display them throughout the day. Our Lord's reference to the Pharisees' custom of making broad their phylacteries had reference to the enlarging of the containing box, particularly the frontlet. The size of the parchment strips was fixed by rigid rule.
"The Lord had required of Israel through Moses (Num. 15:38) that the people attach to the border of their garment a fringe with a ribbon of blue. In ostentatious display of assumed piety, the scribes and Pharisees delighted to wear enlarged borders to attract public attention. It was another manifestation of hypocritical sanctimoniousness." (Jesus the Christ, 526.)
Matt 23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues
Elder Henry D. Taylor
"'He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.' (Matt. 23:11.)
"This attitude of humility was evidenced by a former Vice-President of the United States who rose to great heights of prominence, even aspiring to become President, although unsuccessfully. Later he was elected to a more humble office as a junior Senator from his home state. In accordance with Senate protocol, he took his seat on the rear row. His associates and fellow Senators, over whom he had presided, offered him, out of love and respect, a desk on the front row. He modestly declined, uttering this classic statement: 'I am willing to be a junior and sit on the back row, for I had rather be a servant in the house of the Lord, than sit in the seats of the Mighty.'" (Conference Report, October 1963, Afternoon Meeting 71 - 72.)
Matt 23:8 be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren
One of the greatest examples of this principle is seen in the life of Joseph Smith. Joseph was a prophet, an Apostle, and an Elder. His titles included President of the High Priesthood, Mayor, General, President of the Church, etc. History makes clear that none of these titles does justice to the majesty of the man. Indeed, he was greater than any manmade appellation, yet, Joseph was not commonly referred to as "Apostle," "Prophet," or "President." To the saints, he was "Brother Joseph." The same example was set by "Brother Brigham."
In the Church, titles are often used, sometimes to excess. We need to remember the dignity of the offices of the Priesthood and give them due respect. But when an "Elder," "Bishop," or "President" begins to enjoy the sound of their title, even looking forward to such 'greetings in the markets,' (v. 7) they are dangerously close to Pharisaical hypocrisy.
The First Presidency
"The Scribes and Pharisees of old sought to be esteemed as great above their fellows, and loved to be greeted with distinction in the markets and upon the streets, and to be called by titles of honor; 'but,' said our Lord addressing His disciples, 'be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.' (See Matt 23:1-8)
"In our custom of using the expressive term of address, 'Brother,' and the corresponding form 'Sister,' there is afforded suggestive emphasis of our common family membership in the household of the Lord. We are all brethren and sisters, not some of us masters and others underlings. Nevertheless those who are chosen, ordained, and sustained in offices of responsibility and authority are to be respected, and their official acts and counsels are to be heeded, in all things pertaining to their special ministry, for they act not of themselves but as representatives of the authority of God." (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4: 304.)
Matt 23:11 he that is greatest among you shall be your servant
"The Savior said: '... he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.' (Matt. 23:11.) I think he said that, in part, to help us avoid what some have come to call the 'great sin.' C. S. Lewis wrote that in his opinion, pride is the 'parent sin'-out of it comes all others. He went on to say that he who thinks he is not conceited is very conceited indeed. It is so easy for us to become self-centered and egocentric, and to believe that the world revolves around us. We are concerned about how we can get what we wish from life, rather than what we can do to serve others." (Ron J. Whitehead, "Insights," Ensign, June 1974, 24)
Elder Russell C. Taylor
"I can say unashamedly, I rejoice in the service of God. My experience teaches that the highest goodness attainable is a life of unselfish service to mankind. The Master said, 'He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.' (Matt. 23:11.)
"It has been wisely said, 'Service is the rent we pay for our own room on earth.' We should know that the rent is due on a daily basis and know that the receipt is never stamped 'paid in full,' because the rent, service in God's kingdom, is again due today and due tomorrow." ("The Joy of Service," Ensign, Nov. 1984, 23)
Elder Eldred G. Smith
"There is no greater service than honorable motherhood, not just the biological service of motherhood, but the rearing of children and teaching them the ways of the Lord, teaching them what they should know and what they should do that they might live with him some day. To me, the greatest title of all is the title of 'Mother.' The Lord has said, '. . . he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.' (Matt. 23:11.) What better way to describe motherhood!" (Conference Report, April 1967, Afternoon Meeting 78.)
Matthew 23:12 whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted
"Many of us have difficulty finding a balance between self-deprecation and pride. Some may feel hopelessly inadequate, while others seem excessively confident, even arrogant. The scriptural paradox states, 'And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.' (Matt. 23:12.) The ideal, somewhere between self-deprecation and pride, is humility, which means including God as our partner. We overcome our weaknesses only as we combine our best efforts with his unlimited strength. Too often we do not recognize God as our partner; we become proud and too self-sufficient-and when we do, we usually fall. Humility is not a continual self-put-down, a wallowing in self-pity, but rather is a quiet self-assurance that with God's help we can overcome all things and become even as he is-full of virtue." (O. Don Ostler, "Keeping Our Balance: Recognizing and Resisting Excesses in Our Efforts to Live the Gospel," Ensign, June 1983, 11)
Matthew 23:13 woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
"The very people who should have accepted it are the ones who have scorned it and rejected it and caused all the others to reject it as well. How many times does he repeat here 'woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites'? In verse 15: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.' Verse 23: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.' Then again in verses 27 and 29. So that's the refrain. The scribes are those who study the scripture. He is talking to the people, and he says, 'They sit on Moses' seat, and you hearken to what they say.' Because they preach the gospel, they are the very people that should be most ready to welcome the Messiah. The scribes (we mentioned the Soferim before) are those who study the scripture and who teach it. And the Pharisees are the Parishi, 'those who are set apart.' Parasha means 'to set apart.' Our word is part, parat, meaning 'consecrated, chosen, sanctified.'
"They regard themselves as especially pure. The scribes and the Pharisees are the ones who should lead. They should be the ones expecting the Messiah and the first to welcome him. They were the only ones who didn't. They would have absolutely nothing to do with him, and they turned the people away from him...So every time after this he refers to them as hypocrites. Hypocrite is simply the Greek word for actor, a person who is playing a role which is not his real role, who is pretending to be somebody he isn't. Every time he refers to them on those grounds. They play a good role; they talk good talk, but they are hypocritical about it. They do all these things simply for appearance." (Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe, 2)
N. Eldon Tanner
"We are admonished to be true to the faith, and warned against evil and hypocrisy. In fact, the Savior placed great emphasis on the evils of hypocrisy. He was very severe in his condemnation of those who professed one thing and practiced another. He said: 'Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! ... Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?' (Matt. 23:29, 33. Italics added.)
"I should like to refer to these and other charges of hypocrisy. As I do so, we might well look at ourselves to see how these apply to us. As we look at the conditions in the world today, I am sure we will find that hypocrisy and the violation of the principles of righteousness and decency have brought our national and individual affairs to the sorry state in which they are now. (quotes Matt. 23:4-6, 14, 23-25, 27-30.)
"We might well ask ourselves if such fallacies are present in our own alleged Christianity. In those days, as is so common today, they had brotherhoods in which the law was strictly kept, but they ignored those on the outside by regarding all others with contempt and condemnation, thereby avoiding the heresy of form but committing the heresy of the spirit.
"How many of us are guilty of keeping the letter of the law and forgetting the spirit of the law in that we fail to show mercy and faith in our fellowmen? Do we place more stress on an external act to be seen of men than on a change of heart? The only way to cleanse the inside of the cup is to be pure in heart by being humble and turning from our evil ways and by living the gospel of Jesus Christ to the best of our ability. We may be able to deceive men, but we cannot deceive God.
"Is there danger that our whole civilization is like whitewashed tombs? We have marvelous machines, towering buildings, and thousands of signs of what we call progress; but within we have unrest, strife between men and nations, and unrelieved burden of the poor, and the dead men's bones of wholesale wars. Someone has said: 'Still we try to safeguard ourselves by calcimining the tomb.'" (Conference Report, October 1970, Afternoon Meeting 51.)
Matthew 23:14 Woe unto you...hypocrites! for ye...for a pretence make long prayer
Carlos E. Asay
"A number of years ago, Elder Francis M. Lyman had this to say about length of prayers: 'It is not necessary to offer very long and tedious prayers, either at opening or closing. It is not only not pleasing to the Lord for us to use excess of words, but also it is not pleasing to the Latter-day Saints. Two minutes will open any kind of meeting, and a half minute will close it. . . . Offer short prayers, and avoid vain repetitions. . . .' (From an address delivered in MIA conference, June 5, 1892, and reprinted in Improvement Era, April 1947, p. 245.)
"It is expected that invocations are longer and fuller in expression. We normally invoke the Spirit of the Lord (not a portion of it) to be with us, and we attempt to set the spiritual tone of the gathering. On the other hand, dismissal prayers are short and to the point. Thanks may appropriately be expressed for the spiritual upliftment of the occasion and blessings sought upon the point of departure.
"I fear that in some of our meetings prayers have a tendency to be drawn out and full of trite or vain expressions. This tendency discourages participation in prayer, especially among the youth, and promotes clock-watching. How much better it would be if we prayed as the Nephites. It was said of them: '. . . and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.' (3 Nephi 19:24.)" (Prayer [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 40.)
Matthew 23:16-22 ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing
Brother Hugh Nibley once taught the following:
"[In the Sermon on the Mount] Jesus said, I don't want you to swear any oaths, except by saying yes or no. Some people have said, well then Jesus is opposed to all oaths of any kind. We know that can't be the case, because if you go to Matt. 23 you will see Jesus' practical teaching about oath making. What he objected to there was not the making of oaths. People were swearing by the temple, etc. He said, fine, but just remember that when you swear these oaths you are swearing not by the temple or by the altar or by the temple gold. Don't get into a big argument about which you are swearing by. You are swearing by the spirit that dwells in that temple." (Teachings of the Book of Mormon--Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988-1990, 140.)
His point is well taken. The Lord does not uniformly condemn the making of oaths-especially in connection with the temple. Indeed, temples are for the making of oaths and covenants. Of course, the Pharisees had missed the spirit of the law. They didn't know which was more important the gold of the temple or the temple itself. Was it the gift on the altar or the altar itself which was important? The Lord taught, 'he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God and by him that sitteth thereon.' In the latter-days, this is precisely the practice, for we covenant and swear before God, angels, and witnesses-not by the altar, the veil, the chandelier, or the celestial room!
Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin
Howard W. Hunter
"This is not a denunciation of tithing but a rebuke of the Pharisees and their legalisms. They were paying a tithing of their herbs and vegetables, while overlooking the great gospel principles of judgment, mercy, and faith.
"The principle of tithing should be more than a mathematical, mechanical compliance with the law. The Lord condemned the Pharisees for mechanically tithing herbs without coming into the circumference of spirituality. If we pay our tithes because of our love for the Lord, in complete freedom and faith, we narrow our distance from him and our relationship to him becomes intimate. We are released from the bondage of legalism, and we are touched by the Spirit and feel a oneness with God." (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams, 107.)
Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye...have omitted the weightier matters of the law
James E. Faust
"The Mosaic injunctions of Sabbath day observance contained many detailed do's and don'ts. This may have been necessary to teach obedience to those who had been in captivity and had long been denied individual freedom of choice. Thereafter, these Mosaic instructions were carried to many unwarranted extremes which the Savior condemned. In that day the technicalities of Sabbath day observance outweighed the 'weightier matters of the law' (Matt. 23:23) such as faith, charity, and the gifts of the Spirit.
"In our time God has recognized our intelligence by not requiring endless restrictions. Perhaps this was done with a hope that we would catch more of the spirit of Sabbath worship rather than the letter thereof. In our day, however, this pendulum of Sabbath day desecration has swung very far indeed. We stand in jeopardy of losing great blessings promised. After all, it is a test by which the Lord seeks to 'prove you in all things' (D&C 98:14) to see if your devotion is complete.
"Where is the line as to what is acceptable and unacceptable on the Sabbath? Within the guidelines, each of us must answer this question for ourselves." (In the Strength of the Lord: The Life and Teachings of James E. Faust, 412.)
Carlos E. Asay
"There are some who would welcome a detailed dress code answering every conceivable question about the wearing of the temple garment. They would have priesthood leaders legislate lengths, specify conditions of when and how it should and should not be worn, and impose penalties upon those who missed the mark by a fraction of an inch. Such individuals would have Church members strain at a thread and omit the weightier matters of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 23:23-26).
"Most Latter-day Saints, however, rejoice over the moral agency extended them by a loving Father in Heaven. They prize highly the trust placed in them by the Lord and Church leaders-a trust implied in this statement made by the Prophet Joseph Smith: 'I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.' ("The Temple Garment: 'An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment,' " Ensign, Aug. 1997, 19)
James E. Faust
"I fear that some of our greatest sins are sins of omission. These are some of the weightier matters of the law the Savior said we should not leave undone. (Matt. 23:23.) These are the thoughtful, caring deeds we fail to do, and feel so guilty for having neglected them." (In the Strength of the Lord: The Life and Teachings of James E. Faust, 434.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Our tendency-it is an almost universal practice among most Church members-is to get so involved with the operation of the institutional Church that we never gain faith like the ancients, simply because we do not involve ourselves in the basic gospel matters that were the center of their lives.
"We are so wound up in programs and statistics and trends, in properties, lands, and mammon, and in achieving goals that will highlight the excellence of our work, that we 'have omitted the weightier matters of the law.' And as Jesus would have said: 'These [weightier things] ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.' (Matt. 23:23.)
"Let us be reminded of the great basic verities upon which all Church programs and all Church organization rest.
"We are not saved by Church programs as such, by Church organizations alone, or even by the Church itself. It is the gospel that saves. The gospel is 'the power of God unto salvation' (Rom. 1:16)." (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 237.)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Clearly, the perspective particularly achieved by those who endure it well includes learning how to distinguish between what is big and what is small. The eminent historian Will Durant wrote of that human yearning for the perspective 'to know that the little things are little, and the big things big, before it is too late; we want to see things now as they will seem forever-in the light of eternity.' Thus, without passing through mortality, how else will we learn to discern successfully what the 'weightier matters of the law' really are (Matthew 23:23)? How else, too, will we get the practical and needed experience showing us that 'the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life' (2 Corinthians 3:6)?" (If Thou Endure it Well, 8.)
Quentin L. Cook
The Savior was concerned when others elevated rules over doctrine. In Matthew 23:23 we read, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out that Jacob's teachings with respect to looking beyond the mark applied to Jews of Jesus' day: "They took the plain and simple things of pure religion and added to them a host of their own interpretations; they embellished them with added rites and performances; and they took a happy, joyous way of worship and turned it into a restrictive, curtailing, depressive system of rituals and performances. The living spirit of the Lord's law became in their hands the dead letter of Jewish ritualism"
Doctrine usually answers the question "why?" principles usually answer the question "what?" Whenever we emphasize how to do something without reference to why we do it or what we do, we risk looking beyond the mark. At the very least, we fall into the trap Paul described to the Corinthians, "For the lettter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has used the example of teaching our Aaronic Priesthood deacons the doctrines and principles of sacrament meeting so they will understand that the rules they follow (such as dressing appropriately and passing the sacrament in a non-distracting way) support what the Lord would have us accomplish in sacrament meeting (renewing our covenants and remembering the Atonement in a reverent manner). In many areas we are guided only by doctrines and principles rather than rules. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, " I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves." We are responsible to the Lord for how we respond in such situations.
Those who are committed to following rules without reference to doctrine and principle are particularly susceptible to looking beyond the mark. Equally dangerous are those who get mired in rules and are thus less willing to accept change resulting from continuous revelation. ("Looking Beyond the Mark," Ensign, March 2003, 43-44)
Matthew 23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel
"The ordinary reader must undoubtedly struggle trying to figure out what it means to 'strain at a gnat.' One might even guess that it means to strain one's eyes while looking at a gnat. The problem here, though, is not the word strain, but the little word at. This is a printing error that has persisted since the original 1611 publication of the King James Version. The translators intended this passage to read as follows: 'Ye blind guides, which strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.' The Greek word here is diylizo, which means 'to filter out'. Figuratively speaking, the scribes and Pharisees could never tolerate a little gnat in their (or anybody else's) drink, but a camel could be swallowed whole. Jesus, of course, is referring to the strictness with which these legalistic Jews had interpreted the law, yet their concern for detail did not prevent them from violating the most important commandments in the law." ("Through a Glass Darkly: Trying To Understand the Scriptures" by Royal Skousen Fn, BYU Studies, vol. 26 (1986), Number 3 - Summer 1986, p. 9.)
Matthew 23:27 whited sepulchres...appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones
Harold B. Lee
"We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord. The gospel was restored to prepare a people ready to receive Him. The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand. There will be inroads within the Church. There will be, as President [N. Eldon] Tanner has said, 'Hypocrites, those professing, but secretly are full of dead men's bones' (see Matthew 23:27). We will see those who profess membership but secretly are plotting and trying to lead people not to follow the leadership that the Lord has set up to preside in this church.
"Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, 'as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith' (D&C 21:4-5)." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, 526.)
Matthew 23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy
"The other type of hypocrisy we encounter from time to time in the Church is the more passive variety I call 'role-playing.' Most role-players are not malicious; they just want to stay in the Church even though they don't believe in it. But even these casual hypocrites do more damage than they know. For example, several years ago, I bore strong witness to one of my classes that living the gospel could make anyone's home a little bit of heaven on earth. After class one student waited until all the others had gone and then asked me quietly, 'Are you lying to us, or are you telling the truth? Can a family really be that way, or is it all just a fairy tale? I need to know.' I asked her why she would ask such a question, and she responded, 'My family are all very active in the Church; we are the 'ideal LDS family.' All my life I have watched my parents create and maintain that appearance of faithfulness. Mom is the 'indispensable woman' in our ward, and Dad serves on the high council-but it is all a lie; it's just a role they play until they get home. My brother and I call it 'playing church.' We look like an 'ideal LDS family' on the outside, but on the inside there is nothing. We do not have family prayer or family home evening. My parents neither love nor respect each other, and our home is not heaven. I can't wait to leave and get away from all the contention and hypocrisy. For years I have believed that all LDS families were like mine and that 'living the gospel' meant to everyone else what it means to me-just 'playing church.' I have just assumed that everybody else was playing the same role and creating the same illusion and telling the same lie-and now you are telling me that for some people it's not an illusion and not a lie?' At that point she began to weep. 'I would give anything to have a family like the one you describe, but can it really be like that, or are you just feeding us the same old stuff?' I took her hands in mine and looked her straight in the eye: 'I testify to you, on my honor, that I speak the truth. The gospel is true, and its blessings are real to those who will live it. It's not just a comforting fairy tale; it is true.'
"This young woman had been greatly wounded by role-playing parents, and her ability to believe the promises of the gospel had been impaired as a result. Unfortunately, there are many role-players in the Church, and they usually wound those around them in this same way, though they probably have no intention of doing so. They wound others because they inadvertently teach, nonverbally by their attitudes and their example, that the Church isn't really to be taken seriously, that it's something we just do for social or business reasons, or out of a sense of tradition, or because we think religion is good for the kids, or even because we're just too lazy to break the habits of our youth. Often these role-players know all the right answers and go through all the right motions, but inside they are spiritually dead." (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News, 122-123.)
Joseph B. Wirthlin
"If we practice guile in small matters, we soon find ourselves entangled in an ever-increasing, unending spiral, because each lie or other deception often requires a larger one to cover the first. Moreover, the practice of guile often leads to hypocrisy, which is the false pretense of virtue or righteousness and pretending to be something that we are not. If we know what is right and profess to live by that knowledge but, in fact, do not, we are hypocrites. The Savior denounced hypocrites in unmistakable language. He declared: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of . . . all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.' (Matthew 23:27-28.)
"To the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed: 'Wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. . . . [They] shall be detected and shall be cut off, . . . and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.' (D&C 50:6, 88)
"What are the Latter-day Saints to do? The answer is plain. We are to be absolutely without guile in every aspect of our lives: in our homes and families, Church callings, business dealings, and especially the private and personal areas of our lives into which only we and the Lord see.
"I suggest that we look into our hearts and see whether or not our motives and actions are pure and above reproach and if we are free of deceit and fraud." (Finding Peace in Our Lives, 184.)
Matthew 23:29-30 Woe unto you...because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous
Paul H. Dunn
"Here is an amazing paradox. Jesus was emphasizing one of the lessons of history, that the majority of the people have never been able to recognize a living prophet. In each generation they idolized the prophets of the past, while they stoned the living prophets of the present.
"Can you believe with me that God could speak to men who were the common clay of our generation? If you do, you are unusual, because the rest of the people follow the human tendency to look back and honor only the prophets who are dead. And look at the way they usually honor them: They place these prophets of the past on imaginary pedestals. They make a selection from their teachings that suit their own particular fancy. And while honoring a few popular phrases that identify them with these great servants of God, they smugly go along their own way.
"But you cannot do this with living prophets. Why? Because living prophets will denounce those who profess allegiance to God, but follow the rashness of their own selfish lives. They will not allow men to pick their teachings to pieces and construct a crazy-quilt pattern of personal interpretation that suits fashion and private folly. Perhaps that is why prophets are never very popular while they are alive to defend the teachings that God has given to them." (Conference Report, October 1969, Afternoon Meeting 130.)
Spencer W. Kimball
"You folk in the Church and out of the Church heard a prophet of God bear testimony that this was the only true and living Church upon the earth. Did you listen, or do you also build sepulchres for the dead prophets and tombs for those who have passed away long ago and disregard the living ones? I bear witness to you that the Prophet of God who bore testimony to you on Friday morning (George Albert Smith) is the recognized head of God's kingdom here upon this earth, and you would do well to listen and to accept it in your hearts." (Conference Report, October 1949, Third Day-Morning Meeting 123 - 124.)
Matthew 23:35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias
Elder Theodore M. Burton
"'Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.' (Matt. 23:33-36.)
"Let me quote the explanation of this scripture given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. In speaking of the gospel being preached to the spirits of those whose bodies lie in the grave and citing the necessity of baptism for and in behalf of the dead, the Prophet said:
'Hence it was that so great a responsibility rested upon the generation in which the Savior lived. . . . Hence as they possessed greater privileges than any other generation [in having the Savior in person there to teach them] not only pertaining to themselves, but to their dead, their sin was greater, as they not only neglected their own salvation but that of their progenitors [because of their lack of power and privilege of helping those who were relying on them for release from bondage] and hence their blood [that is, of their progenitors] was required at their hands.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 222-223.)
"If this was true of those who neglected their inheritance in the days of the Savior, is it not equally true today of us who live in the period known as the fullness of times? In our day the gospel in its entirety has been revealed, and our duty and obligation lies clearly before us. Small wonder then that the Lord instructed us as I have read before, that even if we build temples, if we do not also perform a labor of love therein, we will be rejected. The blood of our righteous ancestors will come upon our heads, and instead of blessings we will bring upon ourselves cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments. The Lord has called such neglect both a folly and an abomination." (Conference Report, October 1967, Afternoon Meeting 81-82.)
Matthew 23:35 the blood of Zacharias...whom ye slew between the temple and the altar
Bruce R. McConkie
"Zacharias's mission was to bear an even greater son and to endow that offspring with the talents and abilities that would enable him to prepare the way before the Lord. How well he did this is now written in the records of eternity. As it happens, both Zacharias and his son were called upon, in the providences of the Lord, to lay down their lives as part of the missions assigned them from on high; both died because of the mad anxieties of demented kings. 'When Herod's edict went forth to destroy the young children,' as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, 'John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zacharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, [he] was slain by Herod's order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said.' (Teachings, p. 261; Matt. 23:35.)" (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 1: 311.)
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often would I have gathered thy children together
Neal A. Maxwell
"The mercy-filled and moving statement by Jesus: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,' reflected centuries of unresponsiveness toward Jehovah/Jesus on the part of ancient Israel (Matt. 23:37). Whoever constituted His immediate audience on that day of that lamentation, they were, in a sense, merely stand-ins for earlier and larger throngs. But mercy was extended even when it was unappreciated-a lesson for us on our smaller scale." (One More Strain of Praise, 62.)
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
"That is the motif of all of God's dealings with mankind, always forgiving, always ready to accept us if we will but put ourselves where we may be accepted. His expression was an expression of divine love, and it is not without interest that in making his comparison he spoke of the love of the mother hen, mother love, the nearest thing we know to divine love." (Conference Report, April 1947, Second Day-Morning Meeting 78.)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Where would we be, in fact, without God's long-suffering? Given the divine sorrow each of us has caused our God and our Savior, what a divine comfort to know that "he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more" (D&C 58:42). No more reassuring and important words could be said to any of us.
"What ineffable love! What stunning patience! How wrenching it would otherwise be to be resurrected and forever wincing over having displeased Him. Oh, the marvel of His divine mercy and His plan of happiness!
"One day, if we remain faithful, we will, as the man or the woman of Christ, know that we, too, please God. Discipleship's enlarged capacity to serve will bring enlarged joys. No wonder we read lamentations from the Lord about those who do not accept His invitation to discipleship. 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!' (Matt 23:37).
"Or, from the Book of Mormon, 'O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!' (Morm 6:17). These lamentations measure the deep love Jesus has for us and underscore the importance of our accepting His invitation to discipleship." ("Becoming a Disciple," Ensign, June 1996, 12)
Matthew 23:37 how often would I have gathered thy children together...and ye would not!
Mark E. Petersen
"When the Lord used that one little expression, 'ye would not,' he described the stubbornness, the wilfulness, the selfishness, of a people who would not obey the divine truth, but who turned their faces from him, each one going his own way.
"Oh, that stubbornness! If only they could have realized what it did to them.
"...As I have read that scripture from time to time, I have often wondered about its application to us who live today. I have often wondered whether the Lord cries out to us, disappointed at our disobedience, saying, 'How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.' (See Matt. 23:37.) How many of us are stubborn? How many of us are selfish and wilful, and turn our faces from him, and would rather not obey him?
"This sort of thing applies in various phases of our lives. lt applies in our own homes, sometimes with our own children. Have you sons or daughters who are wilful and stubborn and selfish, and who turn their faces from you, you the loving parents who would take them into your arms and nurture them even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings? Do they reject you, these children in their wilfulness? Some of you have them, and you know how they break your hearts.
"And then there are some in the Church who ought to know better, who have the commandments of God, but will not repent, but are wilful and stubborn. Even though the blessings of God are offered to them, they turn their faces, and each one goes in his own way. We reject God as we refuse to obey him." (Conference Report, April 1951, Afternoon Meeting 60-61.)
Boyd K. Packer
"A teacher may labor with all the resources at hand and then have a bad day or find that one of his pupils has not responded. One thing that he must never do is give up.
"It is comforting to realize that Jesus Himself was not successful in redeeming all with whom He came in contact, that even all those who heard Him speak and teach did not respond-those who were there, who were in the multitudes and listened, who perhaps touched Him. The important thing is that He wanted to redeem them all.
"'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!' (Matthew 23:37.)" (Teach Ye Diligently, 334.)
Matthew 23:38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate
"The reason why the Jews were scattered and their house left unto them desolate was because they refused to be gathered, that the fulness of the priesthood might be revealed among them, which never can be done but by the gathering of the people.
"Whence are [they] in the curse of Almighty God that was to be poured out upon the heads of the Jews? [Because] they would not be gathered, because they would not let Christ gather them. It was the design in the councils of heaven before the world was that the principle and law of [the] priesthood was predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything possible to gather the people. They would not be gathered, and he poured out curses upon them.
"What was the object of gathering the Jews together, or the people of God in any age of the world? The main object was to build unto the Lord a house, whereby he could reveal unto his people the ordinances of his house and glories of his kingdom, and teach the people the ways of salvation. For there are certain ordinances and principles that when they are taught and practiced must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. This was purposed in the mind of God before the world was, and it was for this purpose that God designed to gather together the Jews oft. But they would not. It is for the same purpose that God gathers together the people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances, endowment, washings, and anointings. . . . It was one reason why Jesus said, 'How oft would I have gathered you (the Jews) together,' that they might attend to the ordinance of the baptism for the dead, as well as the other ordinances, the priesthood, revelations, and so forth. . . .
"Why gather the people together in this place? For the same purpose that Jesus wanted to gather the Jews: to receive the ordinances, the blessings, and the glories that God has in store for his Saints." (Kent P. Jackson, comp. and ed., Joseph Smith's Commentary on the Bible, 103-104.)
Mark E. Petersen
"It was in Jerusalem that he was condemned to die as the mobs cried out, 'Crucify him, crucify him,' and dreadfully agreed that his blood should be upon their own heads!
"He carried his cross, but collapsed under it. He was taken to Calvary, nailed on the cross, and while dying was again insulted by the bloodthirsty mobs who had sought his life from the beginning of his ministry. He surely was despised and rejected of men; he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; he was wounded for our transgressions; he was numbered with the transgressors but made intercession for sinners. (Isa. 53:1Isa. 53.)
"He died there, on the cross, but on the third day was resurrected, that we also might be raised from the dead.
"These were the greatest events in the long history of the city. Although rejected there, he pleaded to the end for the people to repent. His words can never be forgotten:
" Nephi had said that the people of that day were the most wicked on earth, the only ones evil enough to crucify their king. His words are chilling:
Wherefore, because of their iniquities, destructions, famines, pestilences, and bloodshed shall come upon them; and they who shall not be destroyed shall be scattered among all nations.' (2 Ne. 10:3-6.)" (Joshua: Man of Faith, 64-65.)
Matthew 23:39 Ye shall not see me henceforth
"Having been as completely as possible rejected by the world-cast out of the vineyard and slain-the Lord was to depart thence and leave the stage clear to the adversary for the gloomy second act. This is a long period in which people go about seeking the Lord in vain and falsely but loudly proclaiming themselves to be the true heirs of the vineyard. First, the departure of the Lord, in no happy mood: 'O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?' (Luke 9:41) "He is going to rise up and 'shut the door' (see Luke 13:25). 'The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast' (Matthew 9:15). 'Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me' (John 14:30).
"Then, surprisingly enough, once he is gone, everyone, the wicked as well as the righteous, will desire Christ and seek after him-but in vain. Just as the wicked world venerated the prophets and painted their tombs after they had been safely put to death (Matthew 23:29-33), so they would worship Christ-at a safe distance." (Mormonism and Early Christianity, edited by Todd M. Compton and Stephen D. Ricks, 270.)