Week 3 | Friday

Week 3: What Attitude Does Jesus Challenge?

Woes on the Pharisees: Hypocrisy

by Janet Nygren

The clearest rebuke Jesus makes against anyone is against the Pharisees, the religious leaders with perhaps the greatest power in Jesus’ day. Initially in his ministry Jesus gives them opportunities to interact with him honestly, but they become more set against him as time goes on. This passage skips ahead a bit from yesterday, but it seems a fitting vignette to conclude our section on attitudes that Jesus challenges. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear what he would like you to take away from this passage.

Read: Luke 11: 37-54

37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”

45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

53 When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.

Be Curious:

  • Jesus’ response seems a bit strong for not washing his hands before dinner, but he clearly knows what’s going on in the thoughts of his audience. How does the metaphor of washing his hands help to communicate the disparity of “internal” and “external” cleanliness?
  • What seems to be Jesus’ greatest concern overall regarding the attitudes of the Pharisees and experts in the law?
  • What do you think is the “key to knowledge” that the experts of the law have taken away (v.52)?


  • Hypocrisy is one of the most common judgments I hear people make in criticism of the church today. Whether or not it is a fair judgment, how does it keep people from getting to know God?
  • How can we combat hypocrisy in ourselves?


  • As I think of combatting hypocrisy, I think of humility and confession. We have all fallen short of what God wants, and our only hope is to turn honestly to him. The following prayer, known as the “General Confession,” is considered one of the greatest prayers in the history of the church, written in 1552 in The Book of Common Prayer:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.


  • Where do you struggle with being consistent inside and out? Has the hypocrisy of others been a stumbling block for you? Take a moment to share with others. 


Kaitlyn - March 17th, 2023 at 5:21am

I was also thinking about how hypocrisy is one of the biggest reasons I hear from people who don’t trust the church. I often have to agree with their assessment because, even if we aren’t making big headlines with our hypocrisy, we all deal with it in some form. It’s so easy to read Jesus’ really harsh words here and become like the Pharisee in the parable “I’m so glad I’m not like those guys!” But the point about confession is so poignant. I want to make sure I let myself get uncomfortable with this passage instead of hoping it’s about someone else. ;)

Also, as a funny story - Any time I think I’m doing well in this area, I think I could just ask my kids. They are always really good at noticing and pointing out when I say one thing and do another. “Mom, I thought you said we had to eat at home more… why is there a chipotle bag in your car?” 🤣

Tom Nygren - March 17th, 2023 at 6:06am

I think one of the main drivers of hypocrisy in the church is our tendency to slip into legalism, just like the Pharisees. It’s understandable how this happens, because Jesus does expect our lives to be transformed when we follow him. It’s a small step to creating lists of do’s and don’ts. But when we start to focus on looking good, and setting standards for correct behavior, hypocrisy will probably not be far behind. Following Jesus should be first of all about heart change. I am sure I contribute to this problem because I am always worried about looking good to others. Churches must be places of honesty, openness, and vulnerability, where we don’t hide what’s really going on in our hearts. I am not very good at that. It starts with the leaders. I think UCC’s leaders model this extremely well.

Melody - March 17th, 2023 at 6:23am

Avoiding hypocrisy is probably my biggest concern in my daily walk, almost as if I'm afraid it will hide around a corner and jump out at me. I'm definitely my own worst critic, but the way I tend to avoid it is to make less claims and promises. In my heart I know this isn't what Jesus intended, but sometimes it's easier to just not put anything in the cup than have to clean it every day.

But when I'm in a good place, it's only the Holy Spirit that gives power to live with integrity. I'm not sure the Pharisees or Jesus could have expected us to do much better without the Spirit's daily help.

Nick Tebordo - March 17th, 2023 at 6:34am

“Teacher, You insult us…” That is the first step toward getting them to listen. They are definitely “hard” soil. This causes me to ponder any way in which I may be hardened to Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness and mercy. I love that the Gospel is received by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus never gives up on any of us or He wouldn’t have been at dinner with the Pharisees. I want my heart to be tender toward His message. It is Holy Spirit Who will guide us if we continually surrender our preconceived notions.

Ruthie Nygren Keller - March 17th, 2023 at 12:12pm

I just want to say that everybody’s comments were so amazing today that they really encouraged me and made me think! Thank you.




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