“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! ....” (Matthew 23:13)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)

Why does Jesus say 'Woe to you'?

Yes, Jesus is confirming that the teachers and administrators of the ecclesiastical Jewish temples do not represent God. But he is also condemning them. Why? Because they were keeping others away from their relationship with God.

"Woe to you" comes from the Greek phrase, οὐαὶ δὲ ὑμῖν. The word οὐαί (ouai) relates to grief or denunciation. Having grief in something relates to being exasperated at that thing. But this exasperation also comes with condemnation - to denounce something or someone.

Jesus is particularly denouncing abominating activities - to advertise to be saving people while actually thwarting people from reaching their personal relationship with the Supreme Being.

Is this still happening?

Ironically, this tradition has continued through this day, even among the very institutions and their teachers that claim to represent Jesus. Many sectarian institutions of today that claim to follow Jesus are taking the very position that Jesus condemned among the Jewish temples of his time.

Jesus predicted this scenario:
Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7:21-23)
We have seen many "fruits" among sectarian institutions claiming to follow Jesus over the centuries, including imprisoning or murdering people who don't attend their churches, and more recently, of priests who have abused young children who came into their church to "enter heaven." Instead of being guided spiritually, these hypocritical teachers sexually abused them.

A few isolated cases?

So we must ask, is this simply a few isolated priests that have gone rogue and have used the institution to become abusive?

As the cases have become exposed, it has become evident that practically the entire institution is infected, as abusive priests have been protected by those who were higher up in the institution. This has, at least in the past, included even the highest position in the institution.

While there may have been some who sought to protect the reputation of the institution because they felt the institution had a noble purpose, such a noble purpose is tainted by protecting abusers - thus allowing abuse to continue within the institution.

Abusing authority

Much of this abuse has been based upon the tendency of some to take advantage of positions of power and authority. Using power and authority for self-centered purposes. This has been an issue among so many sects that have been led by charismatic leaders who sought to gain power and authority over others.

Yes, they may have begun with a seemingly noble purpose. They may have wanted initially to help others. But authority in the physical world comes with an interesting caveat. It can become a disease, whereby the leader identifies with that authority and begins to think they are great and that authority comes from them. That they have some sort of right to have power over others.

Once this consciousness takes form, the person becomes infected by power, just as a body can become infected by a virus.

Once a leader of a sect or church begins to feel powerful and exert power over their followers or congregation, things can become dangerous for those followers. Their blind trust in the leader can expose them to the potential for abuse in one respect or another.

Human history is littered with religious leaders who have abused their followers in one way or another. For some the abuse may have simply been philosophical. But for others, physical and mental abuse has been done, causing years of torment and psychological damage for the follower.

How to tell if a teacher may become abusive?

There are a number of signs for a potentially abusive teacher. While this doesn't mean they definitely have or will become abusive, these signs do not bode well for followers who seek the Truth. Signs can include one or more of the following:

-They seek to gain positions of authority.
-They want a prestigious title.
-They seek fame for themselves.
-They want to make a name for themselves.
-They seek to gain a large following.
-They see themselves as better than others.
-They want others to praise them.
-They want followers to blindly follow their teachings (i.e., not question their authority).

Often, in order to achieve this authority, they will invoke the name of Jesus or some other recognized authority. This is described by Jesus in Matthew 7:21 above. They might even say to their followers, "In the name of Jesus ..." This makes them appear authoritative.

Another sign of a potentially abusive teacher is they seek to gain political power and authority from their institution. This is often done by gaining a prestigious title and position of authority in that institution. Perhaps it is a priest, or cardinal or bishop. For other sects, it may simply be gaining the position of "reverend" in a church with a big (or bigger) congregation. Or perhaps it is gaining some other title of prestige in some other sect.

Many institutions will elect their teachers through councils and electorates. These may be appointments from cardinals, bishops or groups of deacons. Then these institutions will pay teachers and administrators sometimes healthy salaries from money taken the alms of their followers. This effectively creates a business out of the institution, and for the positions of teachers. Was this sanctioned by Jesus?

Professional teachers

If turning church into a business by doling out and collecting salaries is condoned by Jesus, why did Jesus turn over the tables of sellers at the synagogue? Why did he say:
“Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16)
We must therefore ask: What is the difference between church bazaars and bake sales and rummage sales - and a priest collecting a salary - and this market in the courtyard of the temple?

Jesus also condemned the practice among the Jewish priests of collecting from the households of widows after their husbands died:
"They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely." (Mark 12:40)
Paying priests and reverends from the coffers of followers helps produce the ability for these teachers to feel they have the authority to take advantage of their followers. Because their services are ultimately paid for out of the donations of their followers, professional teachers begin to see their followers as sources of income.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!"

The reason why Jesus rejected these ecclesiastical Jewish officials - even though they claimed to follow the teachings of the prophets as Jesus did - the Jewish officials abused their authority, being focused upon maintaining their authority and the authority of their institution rather than upon serving the Supreme Being.

"You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."

How does an ecclesiastical teacher shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces, blocking them from entering?

With their words. It is done by misinterpreting scripture. It is done by bending and twisting the teachings of Jesus, Moses, David, Jacob, Samuel, Job, Zechariah, Abraham and Joshua and other representatives of God. It is done by misrepresenting the lives and teachings of God's loving servants, in other words.

It is also done by focusing people upon fanatical sectarianism in the name of one of God's representatives - instead of upon their actual teachings. Trying to trick people into thinking that if they join their fanatical sectarian organization, they will somehow become one of God's chosen actually distracts them from focusing on trying to come to know and love God. In other words, such a teaching, emphasizing joining a particular group and practicing certain rituals as though they are the end in itself - blocks their follower's ability to progress spiritually:

"You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” 

We see this fanatical sectarian approach cultivated by many institutions over the centuries. These institutions are not founded upon coming to know, love and serve God: They are built upon maintaining authority for those who organize and run the institution. They are no different than the Jewish organization of "teachers of the law and Pharisees" that Jesus was speaking of.

This is evidenced by Constantine's corruption of the Christian teachings (mediated through a political assembly of the Synod of Nicaea, producing the Nicene Creed) by the Roman government beginning in 325 A.D. - which evolved into the Roman Catholic Church. This same Roman Catholic institution violently ruled over Christianity for over next ten centuries.

This and other institutions seeking authority teach a corrupted interpretation of Jesus' teachings and life, namely that Jesus was God become man who died for our sins and all we have to do is accept that and we are saved. This allows people to continue their self-centered activities, and periodically attend church to wash their sins off on Jesus. Did Jesus teach this? No.

The kingdom of God is not entered by joining a church or sect or proclaiming being saved. It is accomplished by changing our consciousness from loving and serving ourselves to loving and serving the Supreme Being. In other words, it is about a relationship. There is no such thing as the kingdom of God without God. The kingdom of God is the place where the Supreme Being's loving children are engaged in a relationship of loving service with God. This is why Jesus' most important teaching was:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)