Our reading this week is Matthew 22 & 23, and here we will focus on 23:13-39 where Jesus condemns the actions of the religious leaders. Their job was to model/teach a Godly life to the people of Israel, but they had failed mightily by corrupt the Temple system for monetary gain. Jesus issues them seven “woes” or condemnations. We’ll cover each of them briefly here.
- “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces…” (13) – The practices these leaders had put into place in worship (money changers, high priced sacrifices, etc.) as well as their impossible interpretations of minute details of the law made it all but impossible for people to worship God properly.
- “…you make [converts] twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (15) – Scholars believe Jesus is speaking in a mocking hyperbole here. Proselytes, or converts, did occur, but no record of any organized effort to teach outsiders has been found. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus is condemning, a lack of care for outsiders, but more so anyone converted was joining a corrupted system that doesn’t honor God
- “You say ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing…” (16) – They had created their own little legal language that meant they could make promises/oaths without having to fulfill them based on what they swore by. Jesus completely condemns this (Mt. 5:37)
- “…you have neglected the more important matters of the law…” (23) – They had become so focused on details that they have missed the heart of the law. Nowhere was tithing of spices commanded, yet they were so wrapped up in this that they completely neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They weren’t letting the main point be the main point!
- “You clean the outside of the cup and dish…” (25) – I think there’s a double entendre here. There was real debate about how to keep plates and cups ceremonially clean: wash inside or outside first? Jesus says the inside is first then the outside will be clean. The idea that it needs to look good (outside) before it is good (inside) wasn’t what Jesus was after. When it comes to dinnerware or people’s lives, we should be focused on the cleanliness/purity of the inside, then the outside will take care of itself.
- “You are like whitewashed tombs…” (27) – I think another double entendre. Tombs were whitewashed/painted as a warning sign so people wouldn’t accidentally come in contact with them and become ceremonially unclean. Jesus tells them they are whitewashed tombs because they look good on the outside, but are full of death inside. I think also Jesus is applying the concept that their lives should serve as a “whitewashing” to keep others away.
- “You build tombs for the prophets…” (29) – The idea that these guys would honor/remember the prophets that their ancestors had killed was in some ways honorable, but Jesus calls them “decendents of…”, whether they actually were or not. This indicates they behaved just like their ancestors, and serves ultimately as a prediction/condemnation of their rejecting him to the cross. “Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (32)
I understand we are in a different time and place, and are operating under a different system of life today. But I think we need to take an honest look at what Jesus was condemning to make sure the same type of condemnations can’t be said about our lives today.