John Stott wrote a book called “Christ the Controversialist” which captures the section of Matthew from chapter 21 to 23. In chapter 23 Jesus is recorded as laying into the religious leaders who opposed him and lays down a series of 7 “woes” on their brand of religion.
In the 21st Century we are supposed to be accepting. Jesus does not model universal acceptance.
In the realm of spiritual conversations, we are not supposed to engage in diatribes, but that is one commentators description of the literary form and vocabulary Jesus uses.
Some say that this passage is anti-Semitic. That is hard to hold in that Jesus himself and the apostles and the first generation of Christians were all Jewish.
What are we to do with this?
First, let’s avoid spending our time identifying all the others we can blame. I could preach a long sermon against the 1st Century Pharisees, but that has the aspect of a history lesson, and not a very relevant one at that.
Second, lets try to point the finger at ourselves. What in these accusations apply to me?
Here is a short list
- You do not practice what you preach. v. 3
- Everything you do is done for people to see. v. 5
- You shut the door…in people’s faces v. 13
- You make the trivial into the essential (v. 16-22)
- You clean the outside…but the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. v. 25
- You hypocritically honor the prophets of old. v. 27
This is not a finger to point at others, but at ourselves.