Tuesday, October 25, 2011


"The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat"
- Matthew 23:2, by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:23-39

TO CHEW ON: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." Matthew 23:23

It's easy to cheer Jesus on as He exposes the scribes and Pharisees. A footnote in my Bible about verse 23 says:

"They were flagrantly inconsistent, having lost all sense of proportion in the importance of spiritual matters. Scrupulously attentive to external things of the most trivial kind, such as tithing small seeds and plants, they forgot the major principles of morality" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1333.

Jesus goes on to denounce them for hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25), lawlessness (Matthew 23:28), and being in the line of the Old Testament prophet-killers with blood on their hands (Matthew 23:31-36).

But even as I cheer, there is in me a vague sense of uneasiness. For have I not been guilty of some of these things myself—dwelling critically on externals (the music style, the sometimes inappropriate dress, behaviour, and speech of people who call themselves Christians) while my own heart is ugly—full of judgement, condemnation, and self-righteousness.

Some of these things are simply matters of taste (and I'd better get over them). About the ones that are issues of holy living, I believe God would say to me: "These things you ought to have done without leaving the other (weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith) undone."

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see my own hypocrisy. May my heart be ruled by justice, mercy, and faith. Amen.

MORE: Cleansing

In Matthew 23:25-27 Jesus talks about the Pharisees' focus on external hygiene and cleansing. This obsession comes up again in Mark 7:1-5 when the Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of eating with unwashed hands. My Bible's footnote gives some background on this:

"The charge was not that the disciples were guilty of poor hygiene, but that they did not observe rituals of cleansing. The Pharisees taught that religious defilement could be spread by touch, so they prescribed elaborate ceremonies of cleansing that were part of the tradition or oral law, which they regarded as having equal authority with the written law" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1361.

A parallel in our day might be us, setting up our own "traditions" by which we condemn, reject, and even deign others untouchable (those with tattoos and piercings, guys wearing hats in church). We need to ask ourselves, is this a thing of substance, or just a style that I don't understand? This kind of tradition-keeping also raises its head in intergenerational conflict, when one generation doesn't understand and so condemns the styles of another. Whatever is behind it, judging anyone as 'untouchable' is so not Jesus' way!

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