3–9 February 2019.
We all know about Jesus’s incredible love, his graciousness, mercy, and gentleness. But in today’s reading we see a very different side of Jesus. We see him truly furious.
Matthew 23 is unique in all the gospels, because it’s in this chapter that we hear Jesus’s harshest, longest, and most severe criticisms. Verse after verse we can feel Jesus’s rage and fury escalating. But who is it that has made Jesus so frighteningly angry? It’s not unbelievers, but rather religious leaders – the leaders of Israel’s faith community, especially the scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus had good reason to be so righteously angry. People who carry God’s name represent God in this world. This is true not just for religious leaders but for all believers. People expect those who claim to follow God to truly represent God’s love, justice, mercy, and compassion in this world. But Jesus is furious because this is precisely what the religious leaders had failed to do. Instead, they were hurting others, oppressing them, damaging both their lives and their souls, and then claiming to do this all in God’s name.
Of course, this is a danger not just for ancient scribes and Pharisees but for all of us. We aren’t so very different from people in Jesus’s time. In our faith lives, too, all of us are tempted to commit all of those same sins. We are tempted to live hypocritical lives, pretending to be better than others, demanding that others live up to high standards while we ourselves keep on sinning, living fake lives of fake piety and fake faithfulness while truly hurting others, and being interested only in serving our own pride and self-centredness. And because we are Christians, when we sin this way we do so as representatives of God. In vv. 13 and 15 Jesus warns us that the results of this behaviour are deadly serious: our behaviour actively drives others away from wanting to know God, and we block others from the kingdom of heaven. Saddest of all, our bad example convinces others that to be a believer means acting in this harmful way (v. 15). No wonder Jesus is so angry with the religious leaders, and no wonder he begs his followers in v. 3: “do not do as they do”!
In v. 23 Jesus reminds us of what is truly important in our discipleship life. To be a follower of God means living lives of faith, seeking what is just and fair for one another, and practicing mercy on those around us. It’s by showing these signs of love and compassion to those around us that we truly represent the true God of Love, and let the whole world know that we truly do belong to God (John 13:35).
Pastor Stephen Lakkis