Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. Matthew 23:1-7
This is the introduction to the seven woes Jesus proclaims to the scribes and Pharisees. You notice he is addressing the people and his disciples. He is explaining to them who the Pharisees really are. Now Jesus says many things in this introduction and throughout the chapter, but I want to focus on one idea. That these men were laying heavy burdens on men’s shoulders while they were not willing to lift a finger.
They tie up heavy burdens – Due to their position and false sense of righteousness the religious leaders had no problem laying down very heavy burdens on the people, while not lifting a finger to help with those burdens. Listen to what Adam Clarke says of verse 4:
They are now so corrupt that they have added to the ceremonies of the law others of their own invention, which are not only burdensome and oppressive, but have neither reason, expediency, nor revelation, to countenance them. In a word, like all their successors in spirit to the present day, they were severe to others, but very indulgent to themselves.
I really like how Clarke cuts to the chase as he says they were severe to others, yet very indulgent themselves. Does that not speak to us today? Are not those in authority, our political kings, running at every chance to lay great burdens on the people of our land, even to the point of heavy generational burdens that our children and grandchildren will have to account? And do they lift one little finger to ease those burdens? In principle Jesus is talking to our leaders today as well. Our leaders are oppressive and selfish with no thought of how their choices will weigh on the future of our children. Yet, they are so indulgent. They spare no expense for their own benefit. It reminds me of that great Shakespearian play, Hamlet. Prince Hamlet who was overcome with the state of affairs of his beloved Denmark remarks, “tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature”, and also we find the famous words, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” by Marcellus. This second quotation is referencing the appearance of the ghost (Hamlet’s father), which they see as a visible symptom of the state of the nation, the rottenness of Denmark. Listen, our nation has become an unweeded garden, filled with things gross and rank, and we are seeing signs of the rottenness of our nation. The sin of our political kings is rotten and is affecting our whole nation.