Matthew 23:23-39 The Woes

Matthew 23:23-24

We have several days this week in the “woes” as Jesus expressed why it’s good to not be a Pharisee.

In today’s reading, Jesus noted that the Pharisees were blind. They could not see that honoring the tithe doesn’t make up for failing loving thy neighbor.

What is the one thing do you that you pat yourself on the back for that Jesus might roll His eyes at because you missed what really matters?

Matthew 23:25-26

Appearances.

How hard we work we work to keep up appearances when we know that what we need – and deserve – is grace. We put on our Sunday best and show up with our best smiles. How often we’re quick to judge others by what we see rather than what’s in their heart.

Cleaning up the inside is hard. It takes confession and repentance; humility. And yet, Jesus came to show us those are the doors into the Kingdom. Sometimes being a Pharisee is easier. 

Woe to us when we miss the opportunities for grace and real transformation.

Wed. Matthew 23:27-28

When we focus solely on our “sins” that people see, we can end up empty inside.

So much of what I was taught when I was growing up in Sunday school and especially youth group, was about the external sins that bring already shame and real-world consequences. I had friends who failed to understand why they were condemned for being pregnant out of wedlock when they consciously chose not to have an abortion. Several wondered out loud, “would they have preferred that I had the abortion?”

That is the problem with Pharisaical thinking and teaching. It becomes more important to cover up our sins, rather than to seek redemption. The Scarlet Letter remains even after absolution has been granted.

As Jesus implores us to focus more on the inside, it seems that He calls us to seek perfection through forgiveness and grace, rather than polishing ourselves up.

Are you more focused on humbly seeking God’s grace or promising to do better next time?

Yes, there is a “both/and” component, but we can fully enter into God’s holy presence when we’re always worried about how we look.

Thurs. Matthew 23:29-36

Have you every thought to yourself, “well, at least I never killed anyone.” Or perhaps you’ve heard someone else say that.

The actions and condemnations of the Pharisees would lead to the crucifixion of Jesus, and the martyrdom of most of the apostles and other disciples for the next few hundred after Jesus. Like Pilate, they might have washed their hands and thought they were cleansed of responsibility, but Jesus (the judge) declared them guilty.

Judgment is often rooted in fear, and much Judaic law was built around the concept that sin is a virus that spreads and the only way to control the infection is through quarantine. Therefore, there must be a system for determining whether a person is healthy enough to mix with the general population and judgment ensues.

Jesus was challenging this basic understanding of sin, as did those prophets of old and the disciples who would later.

Jesus did not teach isolation. Jesus taught love. The only way to stop the virus is through mercy, forgiveness and love.

Today, we keep our kids away from those who are a “bad influence” and design communities away from the “evils” of the city. Yet, the virus only grows. We cannot move far enough away, we cannot inoculate our kids with a needle. We can be the Body of Christ in the world, who goes forth to extend grace and mercy, love and forgiveness. That is how the world is transformed.

Fri. Matthew 23:37-39

When you hear about the “problems in Washington today,” what do you think of? Are you concerned about the apple crop in Washington State? Does your mind jump right away to the single mom struggling to get her kids to stay in school? Maybe. But, your immediate thoughts probably went to whatever negative emotions you might feel about the American political machine.

Likewise, Jesus is mostly referring to the religious machine which was centered in Jerusalem. The institutional religion that lost its way and destroyed the people who came to reform it. The religion of the Pharisees grew into something that did not satisfy the soul, but left people empty.

The old world was about to pass away, the city and temple, the old covenant and the old religion. What will the new world be like?

It will be like…

…ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

…a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.

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