Gospel of Matthew 23 and hypocrisy

On its own, Matthew 23 offers rich opportunities for an expository sermon or homily. Biblical commentaries enhance the original text and offer new angles and fresh ways of approaching the material. All commentaries on Matthew 23 will offer some fruitful information that can be incorporated into a sermon or bible study. Depending on the angle the preacher or theologian wishes to take, a commentary should focus on one or more elements contained in scripture, also taking into account historical and cultural contexts.
Harrington (1991), Pilch (1995), Senior (1998), and Witherington (2006) each offer unique perspectives on Matthew 23. Of these, the most thorough and enriching seems to be Donald Seniors, because the author includes correspondences and also places Matthew 23 within the context of prophetic wisdom. Harrington (1991) also describes the passages clearly and in great detail, allowing for a greater understanding of the role of the Pharisees, and why Jesus criticizes them harshly. Taken together, the Harrington (1991) and Senior (1998) commentaries would be most useful for a homily.
However, Pilchs (1995) commentary adds an interesting element to the discussion by drawing attention to excessive status seeking, a theme that is not typically elucidated in reference to Matthew 23. Witheringtons (2006) text includes interesting and useful sidebars, but is generally too rambling and tangential to be of much use when constructing an expository sermon or homily.
The tone of Matthew 23 is fervent; a homily needs to discuss Jesuss anger with the Pharisees, and how Jesus constructs a Christian community largely in opposition to what he perceives as hypocrisy. The passage is also unique in that it reveals Jesus as a politician, who happens to be willing to use negative campaign ads to lure disciples away from the established Jewish religion towards his own redefinition of faith. As Harrington (1991) puts it, Matthew uses the scribes and Pharisees as negative examples to define true Christian leadership, (p. 323). From the opening of Matthew 23, readers learn that the Pharisees, who can symbolize all people in positions of authority or power, often fail to practice what they preach. The core theme of Matthew 23 is hypocrisy.
Interestingly, Harrington (1991) also notes that Jesus exhibits a resistance to hierarchically structured roles, and an emphasis on equality, issues that could easily become central themes in a homily. A sermon could broach concepts like feminism or political populism, for example. Harrington (1991) also points out that Christian communities continue to reconcile the essential message of egalitarianism embedded in this passage with the sociological necessity for institutionalization, (p. 324).
Senior offers a frank analysis of the diction used in Matthew 23, which also adds nuance to any sermon. For example, Senior (1998) talks about Jesuss bitter denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees and the Gospels hostile estimation of the religious leaders, p. 257). Leaders are condemned as status seekers, and for doing good deeds only to impress others: moral lessons that can be incorporated into a homily on Matthew 23 (Senior, 1998, p. 258-9). As with Harrington (1991), Senior (1998) discusses the shift in social norms and political organization from the hierarchical and elitist model towards the egalitarian model Jesus proposes. Senior (1998) also details the woes to further clarify the message of Matthew 23. The Senior (1998) analysis is therefore helpful for an expository sermon designed to explicate the meaning of the woes, and how Jesuss words can be used to inspire a modern audience to take action against social injustice.
Although all commentaries on Matthew 23 are useful, the Harrington (1991) and Senior (1998) commentaries offer greater opportunities for enriching a discussion on the passage. A homily can be constructed around several different themes, including the need for humility, for promoting social justice, and for creating an egalitarian society.
Harrington, D. J. (1991). The Gospel of Matthew. SP. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press.
Pilch, J. J. (1995). The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
Senior, D. (1998) Matthew. ANTC. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Witherington, III, B. (2006). Matthew, A Commentary. Smyth-Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth-Helwys Publishers.

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