While Jesus' criticism was aimed at these ecclesiastical Jewish priests, the issue is pertinent for each of us, as we look at ourselves, and also as we consider whom to accept as teachers - whether they claim the titles of priest, pastor, preacher, minister, imam, guru, pope or reverend among today’s institutions.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!"Being appointed as a priest or Pharisee - as those Jesus is referring to here - does not indicate a relationship with the Supreme Being. In the same way, going to seminary school and passing the examinations and being selected by councils has nothing to do with the heart of a priest, minister or reverend. It tells us nothing about that person's relationship with God. A person could pass the seminary with flying colors and - as we saw from the sexual abuse of children by priests - still be an enemy of Jesus and God.
And once they have gained their positions, keeping these appointed positions require the priest, pastor, minister or reverend to maintain a certain external demeanor and activities. This is because just as the council can appoint the priest, pastor, minister or reverend, the council can also remove them.
Therefore, maintaining these positions requires the priest, pastor, minister, preacher or reverend to please those councils and the assemblies. Based on their appointment, they become obligated to those councils and assemblies that appointed them. And because they are paid salaries for their positions, they must please the councils in order to maintain their livelihood.
This has nothing to do with the work of pleasing God or representing God. The role of being God's loving servant will not be displayed in a title. It will not be evident from a resume. It will not be evident from recommendations. This is strictly something that occurs internally, between a person and the Supreme Being. In fact, we find from Jesus' life and the lives of Jesus' disciples and many of the prophets and other saints that many were ostracized and criticized by those in power, because their teachings threatened the authority of these ecclesiastical institutions.
Jesus is calling these Jewish official teachers "hypocrites" because their hearts did not reflect their outward religiosity. The loving servant of God does not utilize their relationship with God for the purposes of fame, glory or wealth. The two are polar opposites. The relationship between God and His loving servant is such that the loving servant seeks to glorify God, not themselves. (though God still may choose to glorify his loving servant - as he did with Jesus - but the loving servant does not seek that glory.)
This is consistent with all relationships. Let’s say we meet someone, and we make friends with them. We spend time with them, hanging out together and sharing intimate things about each other. We begin to trust each other. Would we then take advantage of that friendship in order to boost our position? Would we we try to use them somehow? If we did, we would not really be their friend would we?
It is no different with respect to the Supreme Being. If we utilize the beginning of a relationship with God - whether God gave us a glimpse of Himself or some understanding - for the purposes of our own success, fame or wealth - we would be doing the same thing: We'd be using God. We would be abusing our relationship with Him.
And just as any friend would be, God is offended by those who use Him for their own fame or glory.
As we can see here, this kind of position with God is extremely distasteful to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is maintaining an intimate relationship with God. He is upset that these Sadducees and Pharisees (the priests ministers, preachers, rabbis and reverends of those times) were using their positions with the temple for self-centered purposes.
We see from the Book of Matthew that Jesus was accepted into synagogues to teach: But he neither sought nor held an appointment as a rabbi, Pharisee or Sadducee by any council or assembly. Instead, Jesus became the disciple of John the Baptist, who was a student of the priest Zechariah, a devoted servant of God in the tradition of Melchizedek - who was Abraham's spiritual teacher.
Jesus also carried on this ancient tradition by teaching his own disciples and students, and then asked those disciples and students to each go out and teach others.
Thus we can see by Jesus' example that the authority to teach comes not from a political election by councils of men. Rather, it comes from becoming the sincere student and servant of a spiritual teacher who is themselves a student and servant of a spiritual teacher who is themselves a student and servant of a spiritual teacher, and so on. In this way, each student and teacher is a loving servant of the loving servant of God.
The sincere student of an ancient line of bonafide teachers carries not an appointment by that teacher, because a sincere teacher authorizes every student they teach to carry on their teachings. Rather, it is God who ultimately empowers such a student. This empowerment comes in the form of a personal relationship with God, which is fostered by ones teacher. An example of this is Eli's fostering of his student Samuel's relationship with God. Just consider this excerpt from 1 Samuel:
The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli....
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
(1 Samuel 3:1-10)
"You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence."This is a reference to physical appearances versus the status of the heart. A person may wear flowing robes and otherwise appear to be religious. But within their hearts they may be only interested in themselves.
This self-centeredness is our disease, and why we are here in the physical world in the first place. We have rejected our relationship with the Supreme Being and as a result taken on a temporary physical body. This physical body allows us to exercise our self-centeredness with seeming independence.
The Supreme Being allows this because love requires freedom. He gave us the facility of the temporary physical world - full of illusion of permanence and appearing to be a place of enjoyment - in order to allow us the freedom not to love and serve Him.
But we are not these physical bodies and this physical world is not our home. These physical bodies are temporary vehicles which will die within a few years and thence decompose. And everything we thought we owned - including our name, reputation, house, wealth and family - are lost at the time of death of this body.
In this verse, Jesus is metaphorically referring to the physical body as the outside of the cup and dish.
We are the spirit-persons residing within the physical body. This person leaves the body at the time of death and moves on. This spirit-person being referred to by Jesus with the word "inside" - translated from the Greek word ἔσωθεν (esōthen) - which literally means "from within" and "your soul" according to the lexicon. The "soul" is the spirit-person. We are each souls.
The condition of this spirit-person - also metaphorically considered the condition of the heart - determines the destination after the death of the physical body. This condition is the state of our consciousness.
Jesus continues the analogy using the cup and dish. Again he uses the word "inside" - ἔσωθεν (esōthen) - referring to the soul or inner self.
"First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
By cleaning the "inside of the cup and dish" Jesus is referring to purifying ones consciousness. How can ones consciousness become purified?
By submitting oneself to the Supreme Being. Because the Supreme Being is all-purifying and merciful, by approaching Him with humility, our consciousness will become purified.
The best facility to approach the Supreme Being is by praising His Holy Name. This was a clear part of Jesus' teachings, as well as a central teaching throughout the Biblical scriptures - consider the many verses evidencing this.
This of course is why Jesus included in his recommended Lord's prayer: "Hallowed be Thy Name."
Praising God's Holy Names means to repeat them in prayer, in meditation and/or in song. This is the ancient custom behind the rosary: Before 'Mother Mary...' was incanted, God's Holy Names were incanted on beads or tassels by those in ancient times - among just about every ancient religious system.
This custom has its origins in ancient teachers who recommended the "hallowing" of God's Holy Names as a facility to reach out to Him.
In fact, as these verses indicate, incanting God's Holy Names in a humble manner allows us to reconnect with the Supreme Being. We might think of God's Holy Names as language, but within those sounds we can find the Supreme Being. The spiritual realm is on another plane of existence, not perceivable to the physical senses. This plane of existence can be entered through the facility of the Supreme Being's Holy Names because the Supreme Being is all-powerful:
"Wherever I cause My Name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you." (Exodus 20:24)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)