Extortion and Graft
December 13, 2021
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also (Matthew 23:25-26).
Jesus did not condemn the Scribes and Pharisees for poor kitchen sanitation. At issue here is consistency in one’s holiness and righteousness. These priests were very careful to present themselves to the public as holy and righteous men (the outside of the cup and dish). However, their heart, mind, and spirit were anything but holy or righteous (the inside of the cup and dish).
Extortion is stealing property or money by force or threat of violence, property damage, harm to reputation, or unfavorable action. There are two types of extortion: (1) coercive extortion, which can refer to any use of threat or fear to obtain property or advantages from another, and (2) extortion by authority of one’s office, i.e. soliciting or receiving payment by a person in authority because of his office or his ability to influence official action.
Self-indulgence refers to graft. It is a form of corruption that involves misdirecting money by people in positions of authority for their own personal benefit.
Jesus’ meaning in His condemnation is this: the Scribes and Pharisees took great pains to appear godly and pious to the public, but they obtained a living through criminal means. They used their office to rob worshipers of tithes and offerings by over inflating the price of sacrificial animals, or they used their authority to reject sacrificial animals that were raised by local farmers and accepted animals raised by priests. The money changers in the Temple courtyard were agents of the priests like tax collectors were agents of the King. When people came to exchange their money for Temple currency, the exchange rate was exorbitant. They would also divert the receipts of tithes and offerings to personal accounts or ‘skim off the top’ of all the money received.
Their lives, ‘cups’, pure and honest as they appeared outward, were not filled with the fruits of honest service or labor, but with that which had been stolen from the poor by evil, sinful means. Because of this Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and released the animals used for sacrifices in the Temple courtyards. He publicly condemned these priests for stealing from the people who, with sincere hearts, came to worship the Lord and to give Him the fruits of their livelihood. In truth, they were stealing from God!
“Father, it is an abhorrent thing for politicians, businessmen, lawyers, and others in positions of authority to practice such evil, but for people of authority in the church to practice such evil is beyond abhorrent - it is damnable. It is robbing the worshiper and the One worshiped. May our conscience and our conduct be holy and righteous in all we think, say, and do. To Your honor and glory I ask, Amen.”