If anyone knows the name “Chorazin” today, it is only because it is twice mentioned in the New Testament for Jesus’ famous “Woe to you” lines about the city. Not exactly what you want to be known for…
As you might imagine, Chorazin fell off the map for almost 2,000 years. Some people even doubted it ever existed. When archeologists in the early days of the 20th Century discovered the village, they found not only the remains of a synagogue but an intact “Seat of Moses.”
This was a common feature in ancient synagogues; it is where an esteemed teacher would sit, read from Scripture, and lecture. A replica sits in Chorazin today; I’m probably the least distinguished person to have sat on it. (The original is preserved in Israel’s national museum; they won’t let anyone sit on that one.)
In Matthew 23, Jesus mentioned how the “scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat” but he cautioned the people to “do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”
Public hypocrisy, we find, isn’t the exclusive domain of modern politicians.
But let’s back up. For two thousand years, the world has grown to see the Pharisees as the bad guys, as self-serving hypocrites. But that’s not how they were viewed in Jesus day; they were regarded as the right-thinking heroes of Israel – because they once had been. They had begun to rot from the inside, but it was Jesus who was willing to call them out for what they were.
It’s also important to realize the Pharisees were as much a political institution as they were a religious one; an unavoidable circumstance in the context of a society in which religion and government were so deeply intertwined.
If anything, the Pharisees of Israel in the years surrounding Jesus’ life were as well regarded by Jews as the Republicans in Texas have been for the last two decades. But like the dwindling devotion of some GOP politicians to their party’s stated values and the grassroots base, the Pharisees had begun serving themselves rather than God and their fellow Jews.
You’ll recall Jesus described how the Pharisees did “all their deeds to be seen by others.” Meanwhile, 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.”
Can you relate? Today’s politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike – want to be credited with the “righteousness” of so freely spending other people’s money on their “good” causes. (The politicians’ photo op is the basis for our public debt.)
Jesus’ solution wasn’t to coddle the hypocrites but to expose them! He didn’t tip-toe around their sensitivities, but called them a “brood of vipers.”
When we as citizens fail to hold public officials accountable, we fail our responsibilities. When we allow a continuing divergence between what politicians promise and what they deliver, we enable hypocrisy.
And their woe becomes ours.