Woe to you, says Jesus. Is it threat? Absolutely not. It is rather a revelation, a revelation of how things work. It is like telling to a person who is standing on the ledge of a forty stories high building that if he takes even one more step towards the void, he is going to crash to the ground and lose his life. It is like telling someone who is planting strawberries in his field that he will not harvest wheat, or to a person driving at an excessively high speed that he will crash if he comes to an unexpected curve. It is not a threat, not even a warning in itself; it is a revelation, it is underlining the action-reaction effect, showing how things work, it is explaining to someone where a road will lead to. It is a help. Jesus’ words are hard, but it is a loving and valuable aid.
To whom or what are the woes of Jesus speaks of directed towards? That is simple. Jesus is referring to the group of scribes and the Pharisees that He labeled as hypocrites. In truth, Jesus is not referring only to the group of people who are standing before Him in that moment. He directs His woes to a system of thought, to a very specific mental process that can be adopted by anyone, anytime, and everywhere during life.
Is hypocrisy the dangerous mindset that Jesus is referring to? No. Hypocrisy is only its first behavioral consequence. Jesus’ woe refers to prejudice which is the real motor of woes. Prejudice’s cognitive characteristic leads to the creation of groups, to labeling people into categories, so that it is possible to discriminate between what is inside from what is outside. Separation ithen makes all forms of discriminations and favoritisms appear legal, healthy and desirable. This is oldest and most used social simplification system to control the masses. The mere creation of groups triggers accentuation of similarities and differences. The differences then, in particular, become important due to motives connected to ambition, self-esteem, and distinctiveness. In this way, the other person is necessarily perceived not only as different, but also as distant, negative and threatening: this is the emotional characteristic of the system. Gender, age, profession, religion, nationality, political opinion, sport team supporters are perfect, calculated divisions and categorizations that produce in the mind a disqualifying cognitive belief that generates hostile attitudes and false, inflexible generalizations, which lie behind the prejudice process.
It is evident that the raw material of the prejudice system is human material itself: prejudice expands and is reinforced in the group by the number of individuals who belong to it. The strength of the prejudice in a group grows with the number of its members; this explains the insatiable thirst of the scribes and Pharisees, of the prejudice system so vividly described by Jesus: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. Proselytizing of any kind never aims to strengthen the unity and welfare of the group to benefit life and people, but to strengthen and enhance the chain system of thought related to prejudice.
Prejudice is difficult to fight because it behaves like a disease and creates disharmony as a syndrome, but in reality, more than a style or way of thinking, it is the normal product of the functioning of the human mind. By nature and without the contribution of the spirit, the mind works through associations, therefore it naturally tends to distinguish and separate. Associating is the same as separating. Separating is to obstruct: this is the hidden secret of the prejudice that explains Jesus' hard, intense woes. Prejudice obstructs the diffusion of knowledge and wisdom, it blurs the view of reality, thus blocking the evolution of man towards true well-being and keeps people in a state of complete and frustrating dissatisfaction. This state of complete and frustrating dissatisfaction generates and fills people with all forms of aggressiveness which must necessarily be controlled by rigid, oppressive educational environments and inflexible, authoritarian personalities. The repression itself, in any case, leads inevitably to a renewed and marked propensity to aggressiveness, to conflict, to adherence to a strong sense of duty and a blind respect for parental authority as well as an undiscerning acceptance of authority and social policies, creating the perception that those who transgress the rules are different and dangerous therefore should be eliminated. At this point intolerance is not just a personality disorder, but a tactical decision, a prudent strategy to block development and renewal - the evangelical metanoia - and ensure the management of terror, fear and uncertainty. In this way, for example, the normal fear and terror of death are arbitrarily given value, emotionally inflated with a sense of honor and heroism, to push millions of people to die in war, in the prejudiced belief that is right, healthy, holy, sacred and beneficial.
Nothing in the world has so much power to block, on all fronts, the evangelical metanoia as prejudice: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter, says Jesus. Prejudice blocks the flow of knowledge at the source and prevents other sources to be activated for the good of all.
As a result of all this, prejudice reduces contact while contact would reduce prejudice. Prejudice reduces contact with God, with oneself, with others, with nature. At the same time, contact with God, with oneself, with others, with nature reduces prejudice. That is why Jesus, as his last prayer, almost as his spiritual testament, prays the Father that His disciples be given the highest good of all goods: the good of unity, of union. Prejudice fights unity, unity defeats prejudice.