But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither allow you them that are entering to go in.
Read Chapter 23
Cornelius a Lapide
Woe unto you, Scribes, ( Matthew 23:13) &c. Observe that, as Christ enumerated eight beatitudes, repeating the word blessed eight times in S. Matt. v, so does He here bestow eight maledictions upon the impious Scribes, eight several times repeating the word woe. Christ the new Lawgiver imitates Moses, the ancient lawgiver, who promises many blessings to those who keep the law, and threatens with as many curses those who break it. Thus Origen.
Moreover, the word woe is partly prophetic of the grave punishment which should fall upon the wickedness of the Scribes, and is partly condoling and pitying in its signification. Whence Basil says, "This word woe, which is prefixed to intolerable pain, applies to those who were soon afterwards to be destroyed by dreadful punishments." The word woe therefore presupposes a deadly fault, for it threatens the punishment of hell, as Christ explains in ver33 ( Matthew 23:33).
For ye shut, &c "I indeed open to all the kingdom of Heaven; for I preach, r...
You shut the kingdom of heaven. This is here taken for eternal happiness, which can be obtained only by faith in Christ, since he calls himself the gate. (St. John chap. x)
Now the Pharisees, by refusing to believe in him, and conspiring against him, deterred those, who would otherwise have believed in Christ, from professing his name and following his doctrines, and thus shut the gate of heaven against them. (Nicholas of Lyra.)
In all these reprehensions, it is to be noted, for the honour of the priesthood, Jesus Christ never reprehendeth priests by that name. (St. Cyprian, ep. lxv.)
“Woe” is a voice of sorrowing. For this reason he says that they close the kingdom of heaven, because they hide in the law the consolation of his truth. They lost sight of the advent expected by the prophets. Through deceptive teachings, they do not allow others to go to heaven either. They do not adorn the way of eternity.
The scribes and Pharisees have the knowledge of the prophets and of the law. They know that Christ is the Son of God. They are not ignorant that he was born of the Virgin. Yet they did not seek to serve the people to whom they were accountable. They themselves were not entering the kingdom of heaven, nor did they permit others who were able to do so. Hosea the prophet declares of them, “The priests have stolen the way, they have killed the [people of] Shechem,” and again, “The priests did not ask where the Lord is.” Surely every teacher who misleads his students shuts the gate of the kingdom of heaven before them. .
But if to profit no one be a charge against a man, even to hurt and hinder, what plea has that? But what means, them that are entering in? Them that are fit for it. For when they were to lay injunctions on others, they used to make the burdens intolerable, but when they themselves were to do any of the things required, on the contrary, so far from doing anything, they went much beyond this in wickedness, they even used to corrupt others. These are they that are called pests, who make their employment the ruin of others, standing right contrary to teachers. For if it be the part of a teacher to save that which is perishing, to destroy that which is on the point of being saved is that of a destroyer.
By “the kingdom of heaven” is meant the Scriptures, because in them the kingdom of heaven is lodged; the understanding of these is the door. Or “the kingdom of heaven” is the blessedness of heaven, and the door thereof Christ, by Whom men enter in. Thedoor-keepers are the Priests, to whom is committed the word of teaching or interpreting Scripture, by which the door of truth is opened to men. The opening of this door is right interpretation. And observe that He said not, "Woe unto you,” for ye open, but, “for ye shut up;” the Scriptures then are not shut up, though they are obscure.
Not only, He says, are you unbelievers who lead a corrupt life, but you teach others not to believe in Me and you corrupt them by your life and example. For the people are apt to become like their rulers, especially if they see them inclined towards evil. See, therefore, that "woe" is the reward of every teacher and ruler whose evil life obstructs others in progress towards good.