Jesus is not happy with the Pharisees. He calls them whitewashed tombs, beautiful (“righteous”) on the outside but “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” on the inside. (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)
When Dave and I first toured the Florida subdivision where we now rent, I envisioned Aunt Bea taking cookies to a neighbor and Opie fishing in a nearby pond. Aside from the Key West-style homes and the pristine landscaping, what impressed me most were the front porches—welcoming, friendly, a return to a once-upon-a-time era when neighbors sat together and caught up on each other’s lives. Rocking chairs, swings, and padded loveseats all seemed to say, “Come on up and chat a while.”
As it turned out, these didn’t.
For six months I have ridden my bike or taken long walks a few times a week, all hours of the day, expecting to find owners relaxing on their porches or strolling through their All-American, Norman Rockwell neighborhood. Two times (2!) I have found porch-sitters…both who ignored me until I greeted them first. When I meet up with dog-walkers, they speak only if I mention their cute canine. No one has asked my name or started a conversation. What am I to make of this? I mean, such a waste of these charming, inviting porches!
Dave says I’m to make nothing of it. It’s their home and they can use whatever part of it they want. No one has to talk to me if they don’t want to. The way they choose to live their lives is their business. I tell Dave that they probably are all sad people who never learned how to make friends, don’t know Jesus, and I probably should take them cookies. That’s what Aunt Bea would do. Then I reconsider. I know these types. They’ll accuse me of lacing them with arsenic or marijuana. Dave says I am making way too big of a deal out of this.
I tell him that I think our neighborhood is an excellent example of “what you see is not what you get.” It appears inviting, but isn’t. Jesus gave us a great picture of that when he addressed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. (See Scripture above.) Remember, the Pharisees were the spiritual leaders, esteemed, pious Jews who knew “The Law” and insisted that everyone live accordingly. They looked the part and played the part and probably even had “Honk if you obey God” humper stickers on their camels, but their outer appearance defied what was going on inside them. Had Aunt Bea been alive during Jesus’ day, I’m convinced that she would not have been part of the Pharisees’ social registry.
Earlier in Matthew 23 Jesus calls it like it is: Everything they (the Pharisees) do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long. (Side note: phylacteries were small cases containing Scripture that these religious leaders attached to their foreheads; tassels were a grouping of loose threads hanging at the hems of their clothes–reminders of the commandments God gave to Moses). To the Pharisees, wide and long meant bigger and better.
Let’s face it. Appearances can deceive. We can paint it, enlarge it, decorate it, even suspend a “Welcome” banner from it, all which reveal nothing about what’s inside. But isn’t that true of all of us? Could Jesus call me a “white-washed tomb” for expecting others to meet my front porch expectations but not working harder to meet theirs? Could I be that hypocrite? Could Dave be right after all? Could this be a problem that a few chocolate chip cookies could solve?
I think it is. I’m just not sure how long I have to sit on my front porch, waiting for someone to deliver them. But when they do, I’ll invite them to “come on up and chat a while.” After all, you have to start somewhere.
I think Aunt Bea would be proud.