Speaking Of Life 2049 | Religious Sinners
Matthew 23 records one of Jesus’ characteristic critiques of the Pharisees. It is as fiery as ever, taking aim at their religious pride in being seen in sacred clothing and given prominent places in society.
He Begins his critique:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:2-4 (NRSV)
He continues to rebuke for eight more verses. It’s tame compared to some other diatribes where Jesus calls them a brood of vipers or white-washed tombs—clean on the outside, deadness, and waste within.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ strongest words were for those who claimed to be religious leaders. He hangs out with prostitutes, touches lepers, and heals the servants of the occupying Roman soldiers—all while providing words of encouragement. But then, we see his other side, where he is direct and blunt with religious leaders. Why is this?
Perhaps a case of familiarity breeds contempt? These religious leaders were so familiar with theology and sacred practice that they ignored Jesus’ message. You can almost hear them: “We’re the masters of theology; we’re the arbiters of truth, who is this kid?” Jesus, in some sense, turns up the volume to get their attention.
Let’s keep in mind that the Pharisees, by any measure we could come up with, were devout people. Really disciplined people. They were morally pure, ethically flawless, they tithed meticulously and helped the poor. They knew their scripture (the Old Testament) better than any of us ever will.
Jesus’ message for them—and for all of us—is that we all need the re-creating Spirit in us. The Law can’t do it, even when followed to the letter, the heart needs to be replaced and reborn. Even these “good guys” had their sins – hypocrisy, pride, judgementalism. They needed healing just as bad as the non-religious that they looked down on.
When we look at Jesus, we find him comforting and weeping with the obvious sinners such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and drunks. It was the refined, educated, religious sinners that made him scream.
Have you ever asked, what it is that might make him scream today? I would suggest it is when we put religion over relationship. When we start to think that what we know is more important than who we know—and who knows us. When we believe we have it right and others have it wrong. When we stop thinking we need healing. When we stop being transformed.
Jesus transforms lives—the stories of Nicodemus and Paul fill us with the hope that as he healed and transformed them so HE heals and transforms us!
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.