What situations of injustice are you aware of, either in today’s news, or in the lives of those around you?
Jesus’ severe language follows the conventions of an ancient polemic as he exposes the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees. What specific examples of hypocrisy does he highlight in this passage?
Missing the point
In their preoccupation with the minutiae (v 24), whether in taking oaths (vs 16–22) or giving away a tenth (v 23), the religious leaders have completely missed the point. Jesus has already summed up the whole goal of following the law with a command to love God and neighbour (22:37,38).
What's really important
The Old Testament and the New Testament stress what’s really important – justice, mercy and faithfulness (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; James 1:27). The lack of justice shown by the religious teachers reveals the hollowness of their outward religious observances. In contrast, Jesus’ followers, aided by the Holy Spirit, will live servant-hearted (v 11), transformed lives of faith and love.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘Christians … must share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom … Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behaviour. The Christian is called to sympathy and action.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theology of Liberation) How can you show a commitment to justice and mercy in your life?Michelle Smart
Woe oracles pepper the Old Testament, especially the prophets – God’s spokespeople crying warnings of impending doom – for example, ‘Woe to them, because they have strayed from me!’ (Hos 7:13) In the New Testament, woe oracles are mostly found on the lips of Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus’ woes are a profound warning of impending disaster unless the hearers repent (Matt 11:21; see 18:7; 24:19; 26:24). They warn of the impending destruction of the nation and, ultimately, eternal destruction.
Whereas earlier Jesus directed woes to specific towns, here are the first four of his seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus declares the corruption of these Jewish leaders. First, in their rejection of Jesus as Messiah they shut off the kingdom to Israel. Second, they go to extraordinary lengths to make Jewish converts, but these proselytes become worse than their teachers. The third and fourth woes demonstrate their complex and pedantic systems, which are full of inconsistencies and show their spiritual blindness and hypocrisy. They neglect the heart of the Law – faithfulness to God and his covenant, justice and mercy towards the marginalised (Mic 6:8).
Whereas in secular societies church and state are separated or in an uneasy relationship, in Israel these leaders are both political and religious leaders. Their corruption speaks of the moral and spiritual decline of a whole nation and its religion. It is a disaster when groups of corrupted leaders gain control of a nation, organisation, church, or denomination. Corrupt leaders can gain control of a church if faithful Christians keep out of church politics. To keep out is a mistake, for God calls us to step up and get involved. This will preserve his church. It prevents dark forces assuming control. Are you stepping up? Your church needs you.Mark Keown