Monday, July 20, 2009

Woes and Matthew 23

Today in church, we talked about Matthew 23 and the Seven Woes Jesus declares to the Scribes and Pharisees. Peter Putney shared today, and he pointed out that the seven woes are all components of man- made religion! Jesus goes on this tirade about how they outwardly appear to be such fine religious law- keepers, but neglect the most important commands: to love God and to love your neighbor. They (the Pharisees and Rabbis) would make great showings of wearing their phylacteries (those are small boxes containing bits of Scripture tied onto the arm or forehead), and loved being greeted and esteemed in the marketplace. There's this bit about taking advantage of widows, because when someone's husband died back then they would send a scribe to take an account of and put the estate in order, and often they would charge exorbitant amounts for the service. They remembered to tithe spices, like cumin, dill, and mint; but neglected the weightier things of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. There's my favorite verse, about them being like whitewashed toms on the outside but full of dead men's bones and unclean things on the inside. I never paid much attention to the whitewashing part before, but I guess that for passover the religious elite would whitewash the tombs so that they wouldn't accidentally touch or bump one during passover and therefore become "unclean." Whoa.

Joseph Conrad eludes to this imagery in his book Heart of Darkness when he tells of his journey to the Belgian Congo and sees the slavery and oppression there. He notes that Brussels, the most beautiful city in the world because of all it's ivory (similar to a whitewash color ironically), was founded and made possible by the backs of slaves in the sweltering heat of the Congo jungle. So beautiful on the outside. And yet it carries a mortifying, shameful secret on the inside.

Anyway, Peter also pointed out that the Greek word for hate, or "maseo," means more than what we typically think of as merely a strong feeling. In the Greek sense, it covers being unfriendly, preferring one over another (or showing favoritism, like how Jacob preferred Rachel over Leah), and treating people unkindly. It isn't just showing or feeling contempt. Wow.

Also, Peter shared that the word "woe" means, along with being a warning, a deep distressing cry of grief.

Let me repeat that. A deep, distressing, cry. Of grief.

Good Lord. Jesus had compassion on the Scribes and Pharisees too, and wanted them in His kingdom as well. He was deeply grieving for them, and wasn't telling them this diatribe merely to yell at them for their injustices. He was showing them what was wrong so that they could see and fix it. Jesus even calls them blind, and he tries to open their eyes (yeah, I think calling them a brood of vipers got their attention too haha). But ultimately, God wants everyone in His kingdom.

One final thought. The very first thing Jesus mentions to open this speech is that the Scribes and Pharisees and Rabbis put heavy burdens on people and do nothing to lift them off. How insightful- that is exactly what religion does to man. Religion is a heavy weight, one that burdens, crushes, and torments one with guilt and a feeling of never measuring up. But thank God Almighty that He lifts our burdens from us! That is not what the Christian life is about, being heavy. Heaviness comes from from God, but from man and his self- imposed rules.

Ok, last thought. Well maybe lol. I think it was Gary L. who mentioned that these woes are not just matters that we can leave with a religious group of Hebrews from 2,000 years ago. Rather, they are the conditions from man apart from God that he sets upon himself when he chooses to leave God's presence. it started when Cain killed Abel, and when Cain talked to God face- to- face (can you even imagine?!), he chose to leave God's presence. And that's where we get when we choose to leave His presence- empty rules.

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