Ver 27. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.28. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
Origen: As above they are said to be “full of extortion and excess,” so here they are “full of hypocrisy and iniquity,” and are likened to dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Justly are the bodies of the righteous said to be temples, because in the body of the righteous the soul has dominion, as God in His temple; or because God Himself dwells in righteous bodies. But the bodies of sinners are called sepulchres of the dead, because the sinner’s soul is dead in his body; for that cannot be deemed to be alive, which does no spiritual or living act.
Jerome: Sepulchres are whitened with lime without, and decorated with marble painted in gold and various colours, but within are full of dead men’s bones. Thus crooked teachers who teach one thing and do another, affect purity in their dress, and humility in their speech, but within are full of all uncleanness, covetousness, and lust.
Origen: For all feigned righteousness is dead, forasmuch as it is not done for God’s sake; yea, rather it is no righteousness at all, any more than a dead man is a man, or an actor who represents any character is the man whom he represents. There is therefore within them so much of bones and uncleanness as are the good things that they wickedly pretend to. And they seem righteous outwardly, not in the eyes of such as the Scripture calls “Gods,” but of such only as “die like men.” [Psa_82:6]
Greg., Mor., xxvi, 32: But before their strict Judge they cannot have the plea of ignorance, for by assuming in the eyes of men every form of sanctity, they witness against themselves that they are not ignorant how to live well.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But say, hypocrite, if it be good to be wicked, why do you not desire to seem that which you desire to be? For what it is shameful to seem, that it is more shameful to be; and what to seem is fair, that it is fairer to be. Either therefore be what you seem, or seem what you are.
Ver 29. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,30. And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.31. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.”
Jerome: By a most subtle syllogism He proves them to be the sons of murderers, while to gain good character and reputation with the people, they build the sepulchres of the Prophets whom their fathers put to death.
Origen: Without just cause He seems to utter denunciations against those who build the sepulchres of the Prophets; for so far what they did was praiseworthy; how then do they deserve this “woe”?
Chrys., Hom. lxxiv: He does not blame them for building the sepulchres, but discovers the design with which they built them; which was not to honour the slain, but to erect to themselves a triumphal monument of the murder, as fearing that in process of time the memory of this their audacious wickedness should perish.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, they said within themselves, If we do good to the poor not many see it, and then but for a moment; were it not better to raise buildings which all may see, not only now, but in all time to come; O foolish man, what boots this posthumous memory, if, where you are, you are tortured, and where you are not there you are praised?
While He corrects the Jews, He instructs the Christians; for had these things been spoken to the former only, they would have been spoken, but not written; but now they were spoken on their account, and written on ours. When one, besides other good deeds, raises sacred buildings, it is an addition to his good works; but if without any other good works, it is a passion for worldly renown.
The martyrs joy not to be honoured with money which has caused the poor to weep. The Jews, moreover, have ever been adorers of saints of former times, and contemners, yea persecutors, of the living. Because they could not endure the reproaches of their own Prophets, they persecuted and killed them; but afterwards the succeeding generation perceived the error of their fathers, and thus in grief at the death of innocent Prophets, they built up monuments of them. But they themselves in like manner persecuted and put to death the Prophets of their own time, when they rebuked them for their sins. This is what is meant, And ye say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the Prophets.”
Jerome: Though they speak not this in words, they proclaim it by their actions, in ambitious and magnificent structures to their memory.
Pseudo-Chrys.: What they thought in their hearts, that they spoke by their deeds. Christ lays bare here the natural habit of all wicked men; each readily apprehends the other’s fault, but none his own; for in another’s case each man has an unprejudiced heart, but in his own case it is distorted. Therefore in the cause of others we can all easily be righteous judges. He only is the truly righteous and wise who is able to judge himself.
It follows, “Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that you are the children of them which killed the Prophets.”
Chrys.: What kind of accusation is this, to call one the son of a murderer, who partakes not in his father’s disposition? Clearly there is no guilt in being so; wherefore this must be said in proof of their resemblance in wickedness.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The character of the parents is a witness to the sons; if the father be good and the mother bad, or the reverse, the children may follow sometimes one, sometimes the other. But when both are the same, it very rarely happens that bad sons spring of good parents, or the reverse, though it be so sometimes. This is as a man is sometimes born out of the rule of nature, having six fingers or no eyes.
Origen: And in the prophetic writings, the historical sense is the body, the spiritual meaning is the soul; the sepulchres are the letter and books themselves of Scripture. They then who attend only to the historical meaning, honour the bodies of the Prophets, and set in the letter as in a sepulchre; and are called Pharisees, i.e. ‘cut off’ as it were cutting off the soul of the Prophets from their body.
32. “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Chrys.: He had said against the Scribes and Pharisees, that they were the children of those who killed the Prophets; now therefore He shews that they were like them in wickedness, and that was false that they said, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the Prophets.”
Wherefore He now says, “Fill ye up the measure of your fathers.” This is not a command, but a prophecy of what is to be.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He foretels, that as their fathers killed the Prophets, so they also should kill Christ, and the Apostles, and other holy men. As suppose you had a quarrel with some one, you might say to your adversary, Do to me what you are about to do; but you do not therein bid him do it, but shew him that you are aware of his manoeuvres. And in fact they went beyond the measure of their fathers; for they put to death only men, these crucified God.
But because He stooped to death of His own free choice, He does not lay on them the sin of His death, but only the death of the Apostles and other holy men. Whence also He said, “Fill up,” and not “Fill over;” for a just and merciful Judge overlooks his own wrongs, and only punishes those done to others.
Origen: They fill up the measure of their fathers’ sins by their not believing in Christ. And the cause of their unbelief was, that they looked only to the letter and the body, and would understand nothing spiritual in them.