A psychiatry professor was teaching the introductory lesson on emotional extremes to his college class. Starting with the basics, the professor asked a student from Arkansas, “What is the opposite of joy?” and the student immediately replied, “Sadness.” The teacher moved on to a young lady from Oklahoma and asked, “And the opposite of depression?” to which she responded, “Elation.” Then, turning to a young man from Texas, the professor said, “And you, friend, what is the opposite of woe?” In the blink of an eye the young Texan replied, “Sir, I believe that would be `giddy-up.”
(I hope you are smiling.) In reality, spelled “Whoa” or “Woe,” both are warnings. In the Bible, “Woe” in Greek is “ouai” and is a judgment that typically signifies impending doom and/or the wrath of God. It is worse than using the middle name of your child to get his/her attention. In Jesus’ day, those three letters caused knees to shake and sweat to pool on more than one forehead, which is why Jesus used “Woe” with the legalistic Pharisees.
In Matthew, chapter 23 alone, he recites the warning word eight times. Seven of them read like this: But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. One refers to them as blind guides. Each “Woe” carries with it its own description of ungodly behavior. So, what did the religious Pharisees do to invoke such anger from Jesus? Let me count the ways.
Okay, I can’t. There are too many. Most, however, share one theme: the Pharisees are prideful. They humble the multitudes while elevating their own status. If there were a Hall of Fame in Jesus’ day, they would have duked it out to have their names inscribed on the plaque. Their self-importance causes them to demand attention and submission, a behavior despised by Jesus whose very words “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” points to their sin.
For goodness sakes, Jesus stands nose-to-nose with these leaders on an almost-daily basis, yet they fail to recognize Truth when they smell it. Even when Jesus repeatedly traps them in their own game of “Trick the Rabbi,” the majority sulk instead of opening their hearts to hear what he was trying to teach them about their pride.
The message is just as relevant today. We are equally guilty. All we have to do connect on social media where we are afforded the perfect place for a relatively new term: “humblebrag.” You know what I’m talking about.
“Closet-cleaning day ahead. Losing those 40 pounds has forced me to donate all of my XL sizes.”
“Some days I feel so guilty about my parenting skills, but then my sweet little prince brings me iced tea by the pool and I know there is hope.”
“Just bought several more acres but dread the taxes that will follow. Are you with me?”
Hidden within the humble words are subtle (?) ways to boast. Jesus might have a “Woe” or two for these people, don’t you think? But before I find too much comfort in writing about someone else’s pride, I should stop giddy-upping on my high horse and admit I deserve a thunderous “Woe” admonition for criticizing anyone for their pride (like I just did with my social media quotes).
If I truly were pride-less, I would know that in pointing to others’ arrogance, I am elevating myself as just a little more righteous, a little more Pharisee-like (and a lot less Christ-like), probably giving new meaning to the phrase, “Oh, woe is me!”