Summary: Jesus’ stinging tirade against the hyprocrites and heretics is a righteous condemnation of false religion.
I get worked up about a lot of things. I get worked up when they change the words to old hymns that are favourites of mine. I get worked up at umpiring and refereeing decisions – perhaps not as much as St. George supporters, but worked up nonetheless. I get worked up when Damien takes the last cold can of soft drink from the fridge when I desperately wanted it. And I won’t even start to mention what gets me worked up when I’m behind the wheel of a car! I got worked up over some fairly petty things!
But I also get worked up over things that maybe aren’t so petty. Like deceit in government. Like the way we treat aliens and strangers in our land. Like people who call themselves Christian who lead others astray by teaching things that aren’t true.
Sometimes when I decide to have a rant about one of those things, people look at me with those glazed expressions of boredom. Here he goes again, they think. Others look at me a different way, as if they’re wondering whether it’s right for a Christian to speak like that at all. Whether it’s right for a Christian to be anything other than accepting of everyone and every viewpoint. Whether it’s right for a Christian to be angry about something and to say it with a degree of force. And, just as importantly – what should a Christian be angry about?
Well then we come to Matthew 23 and this schalacking that Jesus gives to teachers of the Law (or the Scribes) and the Pharisees.
Our society is so caught up in the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” view that to many it comes as an incredible shock to see and to hear that Jesus uses the sort of strong language that we get in this passage. You may not be caught up in that, and if you were then I expect the last few weeks on Matthew have challenged that view already.
But make no mistake about it. This is a stinging tirade of condemnation and, many would say, abuse. There are no niceties, no political correctness, no “let’s have a listening process to sort out our differences”. There is challenge upon challenge, condemnation upon condemnation, insult upon insult.
There is serious anger here. There is no way of envisioning this speech being delivered except with raised voice, with heightened emotion and probably with lots of fist pumping and finger pointing.
As we go through this litany of condemnation I’ll try to draw your attention to places where our society and our churches are exactly like those Scribes and Pharisees. But we all need to be considering our own hearts as well. The righteous anger of God’s only begotten Son is one thing. That doesn’t necessarily make our anger legitimate. Is our anger just hypocrisy? Do we do exactly the same things, just in different ways? As Jesus says, we need to remove the plank in our own eye before getting rid of the speck in our brother’s.
With that warning, let’s turn to Matthew 23.
When you heard it read earlier I’m sure you picked up on a word that kept springing up, a description of the Pharisees that Jesus kept returning to. Vs 13, 15, 23,25,29: “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Ultimately, that’s their problem. Hypocrisy. As vs 3 says, “they do not practice what they preach.” They put themselves in the seat of Moses and claim his authority. They demand that the people keep law after law, after law – many of which were not in the Law of Moses at all – and in that way place this heavy load of obedience on men’s shoulders. But they’re not willing to do it themselves. They’re not willing to live it out themselves. And they’re not willing to give any assistance to those who are so burdened. Compare that to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28 who says “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
We often hate hypocrisy in others but are quite comfortable with it in ourselves. I remember when I was in primary school one teacher in particular was an absolute nazi about getting students to pick up rubbish on the playground. She’d call to a kid on the other side of the oval to come and pick up a bit of rubbish that was at her feet. She’d point at it so her finger was within an inch of this chip packet and scream pick it up. She demanded others do what she wouldn’t do herself. I’m sure there’s some teachers out there this morning who think she did exactly the right thing. But I reckon it’s hypocrisy.