Be neither white-washed nor unmarked

When I was 10 years old my father decided to dig a full basement out from under our house. In one corner he pointed out to me a change in the pattern of the packed earth that formed the wall. “Notice how this part is all layered,” he said, “while the earth right next to it is not? This may be an old Indian grave.” I was filled with amazement. Our house might have been built on top of a dead man’s bones!

Two warnings Jesus made about the Pharisees seem contradictory at first. He says they are like white-washed tombs (Matt. 23:27-28). The beauty of their external lives are only a facade for the ugly corruption within. He says they are also “like unmarked graves which men walk over without knowing it”(Luke 11:44). How could the same person be like an unmarked grave and like one so well marked that no one could miss it?

In comparing them to white-washed tombs, Jesus describes their hypocrisy. Their hidden intentions do not match the beautiful things they do. If one could, like Jesus, see the inside as well as the outside, he or she would be repelled by the horrible inconsistency.

Comparing them with unmarked graves describes their unnoticed influence. Dedicated Jews were scrupulous about avoiding graves for fear that they might touch a human bone and defile themselves (see Num. 19:11-13). Jesus was saying that people defiled themselves whenever they got around the hypocritical Pharisees. And the worst part of it was that they didn’t even realize they were being defiled. They thought the Pharisees would bring them closer to God.

We must watch our own lives, constantly comparing our actions with our attitudes. Would we be willing for our intentions to be as obvious as the good things we do? Do we draw people closer to God by their association with us, or do we defile them?

The new owners of that house do not know about the possible Native American grave in the basement. It’s probably just as well. It might give them the chilly willies.

—Steve Singleton