Archive for the ‘Matthew 23’ Category

A Loving Orthodoxy   2 comments


Above:  Icon of Christ the Merciful

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

O God, our teacher and guide,

you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.

Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition,

that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding

as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48


The Assigned Readings:

Judges 6:1-10 (Thursday)

1 Kings 22:22-40 (Friday)

2 Kings 17:5-18 (Saturday)

Psalm 54 (All Days)

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Thursday)

Romans 11:25-32 (Friday)

Matthew 23:29-39 (Saturday)


Save me, O God, by your Name;

in your might, defend my cause.

Hear my prayer, O God;

give ear to the words of my mouth.

For the arrogant have risen up against me,

and the ruthless have sought my life,

those who have no regard for God.

Behold, God is my helper;

it is the Lord who sustains my life.

Render evil to those who spy on me;

in your faithfulness, destroy them.

I will offer you a freewill sacrifice

and praise your Name, O LORD, for it is good.

For you have rescued me from every trouble,

and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

–Psalm 54, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The prayer for divine destruction of enemies–hardly unique to Psalm 54–does violate the commandment to love one’s enemies as oneself, does it not?

Enemies exist.  In the pericopes for these three days alone we read of Midianites, monarchs, Assyrians, Arameans, and corrupt officials from the Temple at Jerusalem.  Furthermore, we, if we are to become properly informed, must know that many early Christians regarded Jews who rejected Jesus as enemies.  Christianity began as a Jewish sect, one which remained on the Jewish margins.  Frustrations over this reality became manifest in, among other texts, the Gospel of John, with its repeated references to “the Jews” in negative contexts.  Nevertheless, St. Paul the Apostle, who preached to Gentiles, was always Jewish.

Sometimes enemies are others.  On many occasions, however, one can find the enemy looking back at oneself in a mirror.  A recurring theological motif in the Hebrew Bible is that the exiles of Hebrew people resulted from rampant societal sinfulness; the collective was responsible.  That runs afoul of Western notions of individualism, but one finds it in the pages of the Bible.  There are at least two varieties of responsibility and sin–individual and collective.  We are responsible to God, for ourselves, and to and for each other.  Thus reward and punishment in the Hebrew Bible are both individual and collective.  Sometimes, the texts tell us, we bring destruction on ourselves.

But how does that translate into language regarding God?  May we take care not to depict God as a cosmic tyrant while investing that God is also merciful.  Yes, actions have consequences for ourselves and those around us.  Yes, God has sent many prophets, a large number of whom have endured the consequences of rejection.  Yes, both judgment and mercy exist in God.  I do not presume to know where the former ends and the latter begins; such matters are too great for me, a mere mortal.

No, I reject false certainty and easy answers.  No variety of fundamentalism is welcome here.  No, I embrace what St. Paul the Apostle called

the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,

complete with

his judgments


inscrutable ways.–Romans 11:33, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I favor “the mystery of God,” as in 1 Corinthians 2:1, as well as a relationship with God, which depends on divine faithfulness, not on human wisdom.

Kenneth J. Foreman, writing in Volume 21 (1961) of The Layman’s Bible Commentary, noted in reference to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

One point to note is that Paul does not present Christianity as a set of dogmas or as a manual of advice.  It is a story, something that happened, something God has done.–Page 75

Orthodoxy can be healthy, so long as it is neither stale nor unloving.  Pietism, with its legalism, is quite unfortunate.  Pietism, a reaction against stale orthodoxy, is at least as objectionable as that which it opposes.

Some thoughts of Dr. Carl J. Sodergren (1870-1949), a theologian of the former Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (1860-1962), from 1937 apply well in the context of these pericopes and many circumstances:

Orthodoxy is good.  It means adherence to the truth, and no sane man would willingly surrender that.  But orthodoxy without love is dangerous.  It provides fertile soil for bigotry, hatred, spiritual pride, self-conceit, and a score of other evils which hide the Holy One from the eyes of the world.  It turns men into merciless heresy hunters, the most contemptible vermin on earth.  It aligns us with the scribes and Pharisees, the priests and high priests of the time of Jesus.  Nobody ever questioned their orthodoxy, but because it was loveless, it blinded them to His divinity and made it easier to spike Him to a cross.  We are not worried about the trumpet calls to orthodoxy which for some reason have begun to blare may drown out in our hearts the still small voice which prays for unity and love among all Christ’s disciples.

–Quoted in G. Everett Arden, Augustana Heritage:  A History of the Augustana Lutheran Church (Rock Island, IL:  Augustana Press, 1963), pp. 287-288

May love of God and for each other be evident in our lives and social structures and institutions.  Wherever it is evident, may it increase.  May we obey the divine commandment to take care of each other, not to exploit anyone or to discriminate against any person.  The Golden Rule is difficult to live, but we have God’s grace available to us; may we avail ourselves of it.  We also have an example–Jesus–to follow.  May his love be evident (then more so) in us, especially those of us who claim to follow him or to attempt to do so.







Adapted from this post:


Taking God Seriously   1 comment

Hophni and Phinehas

Above:  Hophni and Phinehas

Image in the Public Domain

Taking God Seriously


The Collect:

O God, generous and supreme, your loving Son lived among us,

instructing us in the ways of humility and justice.

Continue to ease our burdens, and lead us to serve alongside of him,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51


The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:27-36 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 13:1-16 (Friday)

Malachi 1:6-2:9 (Saturday)

Psalm 43 (All Days)

Romans 2:17-29 (Thursday)

2 Peter 2:1-3 (Friday)

Matthew 23:13-28 (Saturday)


Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,

and bring me to your holy hill

and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God,

to the God of my joy and gladness;

and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.

–Psalm 43:3-4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


There are at least two ways to be wrong:  sincerely and insincerely.  Certainly there have always been those people who lead others astray knowingly.  The majority of false teachers and prophets over time, I propose, have not known of their error.  They have been the blind leading the blind, with disastrous results for all involved.

A brief catalog of named errors I have compiled from these days’ readings follows:

  1. Fixating on relatively minor points at the expense of relatively major ones,
  2. Acting disrespectfully of sacred rituals, and
  3. Acting disrespectfully of sacred places.

People of good faith disagree about what constitutes an example of the first point.  Is insisting on the circumcision of males an example of it?  St. Paul the Apostle, in his reformed state, thought so.  Yet the practice was a major point in the Old Testament and a mark of Jewish identity.  As you probably know, O reader, identity is a sensitive psychological issue.  That seems to be the reality for Jews of today who fall back upon identity and the theology of covenant when defending the practice against secular critics.  I am somewhat sympathetic to these faithful Jews.

In St. Paul’s day the question focused on the issue of whether a Gentile had to convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian.  At the time Christianity was still a Jewish sect, after all.  Thus issues of identity, inclusion, and exclusion collided.  The Apostle sided with inclusion, as I tend to do.  Reflecting on the readings for the previous post led to me to write about removing barriers to trusting in God, upon whom we depend completely.  In that spirit, then, should we not remove barriers to coming to God, who beckons us?

May we, while taking God and divine commandments seriously, do so in ways which smooth the path to salvation, not construct barriers to it.







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Godly Imagination   1 comment


Above:  Diagram of a U-Turn

Image Source = Smurrayinchester


The Collect:

O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy.

Without your help, we mortals will fail;

remove far from us everything that is harmful,

and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46


The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 33:1-6

Psalm 119:33-40

Matthew 23:29-36


The route of transformation–a process which God initiates–is that of turning around.  Ezekiel 33, the beginning of which is an assigned reading for today, makes those two points clearly.  It also states, contrary either to Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10 or to interpretations thereof, that individuals are responsible only for their sins; they carry no responsibility for the sins of any of their ancestors.

Regardless of how nice we think we are, we are complicit in sins of society because of our roles in societal institutions.  Our hands might not be as clean as we imagine because others do our dirty work while we are either oblivious or we approve.  I think of that reality when I read Jesus from Matthew 23:36:

Truly I tell you:  this generation will bear the guilt of it all.

The Revised English Bible, 1989

To repent is to turn around and to change one’s mind.  Changing one’s mind is crucial and difficult, for we become accustomed to ways of being and thinking; we are creatures of habit.  I am convinced that more sin flows from lack of imagination than from cartoonish, mustache-twirling perfidy.  Yes, there are malicious people who seek out opportunities to harm others each day, but more negativity results from functional fixedness.  Those of us who are not malicious might not even be able at certain moments to imagine that what God has said ought be (A) is what God has said ought to be or (B) can come to pass, at least any time soon.  Our lack of imagination condemns us and injures others.

How might the world be a better place for more people if more of us had a more highly developed imagination in tune with God?  Many of us, in the words of Psalm 119:35 (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979), pray:

Make me go in the path of your commandments,

for that is my desire.

How many of us, however, have the imagination to recognize that route?  May we see then follow it to the end, by grace and free will, itself a result of grace.





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Jeremiah and Matthew, Part V: Hope Amid Judgment   1 comment


Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 8:18-9:12

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening)

Matthew 23:13-39


Some Related Posts:

Jeremiah 8-9:

Matthew 23:


Why is the land in ruins,

Laid waste like a wilderness,

with none passing through?

The LORD replied, Because they forsook the teaching I had set before them.  They did not obey Me and they did not follow it, but followed their own heart and followed the Baalim, as their fathers had taught them.  Assuredly thus says says the LORD of Hosts, he God of Israel:  I am going to feed that people wormwood and make them drink a bitter draft.  I will scatter them among nations which their fathers never knew; and I will dispatch the sword after them until I have consumed them.

–Jeremiah 9:11b-15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


The assigned Psalms speak of God as the defender of the righteous.  They also, like the lections from Jeremiah and Matthew, mention God’s destructive side.  One ethic–obey God’s rules and stay on the good side of God or disobey them and suffer the consequences–unites these readings.  There is suffering for righteous deeds sometimes, of course, as the examples of Jesus and uncounted martyrs attest, but it is better to suffer for being on God’s side.

We need to avoid false generalizations, such as those found in Prosperity Theology.  There is no metaphysical righteousness machine whereby one inserts the coins of holiness and receives an automatic reward, a sort of quid pro quo.  We cannot buy grace.  If we could do so, it would not be grace.  Also, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  The strong element of human free will, applied for nefarious ends, has warped societies, cultures, and subcultures.

But nothing so warped lasts forever.  The readings from Jeremiah and Matthew come from cultures which ceased to exist a long time ago.  And people have changed, altering their societies, cultures, and subcultures with them.  The modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America comes to mind immediately.  Yes, many attitudes are slow to change in some circumstances, but hope for repentance remains.  From that fact I derive much hope.







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Jeremiah and Matthew, Part IV: False Talismans   1 comment


Above:  The First Temple


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 7:1-29

Psalm 42 (Morning)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening)

Matthew 23:1-12


Some Related Posts:

Jeremiah 7:

Matthew 23:


Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, “The Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the Lord are those [buildings].”  No, if you mind your ways and your actions; if you execute justice between one man and another; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt–then only will you dwell in this place….

–Jeremiah 7:4-7a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


I have eaten ashes for bread

and mingled my drink with weeping,

Because of your indignation and wrath,

for you have taken me up and cast me down.

My days fade away like a shadow,

and I am withered like grass.

–Psalm 102:10-12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


Jeremiah’s Temple sermon condemned idolatry, economic injustice, judicial corruption, and insensitivity toward the needs of others.  It cited these as reasons for God’s wrath against the kingdom.  It picked up a theme from Deuteronomy 28 and 30, especially 30:15-20.  But Jeremiah’s words fell on deaf ears.

One of Jeremiah’s main criticisms was that people treated the Temple and its rituals as talismans–that people thought they could therefore do as they wanted and that the Temple and its rituals would protect them.  Jesus criticized Temple authorities who acted hypocritically and imposed needless burdens on sincere people while seeking opportunities for prestige, not service.  Their alleged talismans did not protect them from the wrath of the Roman Empire in 70 CE.

Yes, there is divine mercy.  Yes, there is divine judgment.  And often that judgment is simply the consequences of our misdeeds backfiring on us.  We err when we forget that each of us is here on the planet to, among other things, care actively and deeply for each other–to serve each other in the name of God and to respect the Image of God in each other.  This ethic is inconsistent with violence and exploitation, whether one commits them or merely consents to them passively.  This ethic is inconsistent with such deeds and their root attitudes regardless of whether they flow from the political left wing or right wing.

God is watching us.








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Authentic Spirituality   1 comment

Above:  Bottle Feeding an Abandoned Kitten


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You know yourselves, my brothers, that our visit to you has not proved ineffectual.

We had, as you know, been given rough treatment and been grossly insulted at Philippi, and it was our God who gave us the courage to proclaim his Good News to you in the face of great opposition.  We have not taken to preaching because we are deluded, or immoral, or trying to deceive anyone; it was God who decided that we were fit to be entrusted with the Good News, and when we are speaking, we are not trying to please men but God,who can read our inmost thoughts. You know very well, and we can swear it before God, that never at any time have our speeches been simply flattery, or a cover for trying to get money; nor have we ever looked for any special honour from men, either from you or anybody else, when we could have imposed ourselves on you with the full weight, as apostles of Christ.

Instead, we were unassuming.  Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt so devoted and protective towards you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well.

Psalm 139:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places

and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,

but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go then from your Spirit?

where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

8 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

9 Even there your hand will lead me

and your right hand hold me fast.

Matthew 23:23-26 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you , scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who pay tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law–justice, mercy, good faith!  These you should have practised, without neglecting the others.  You blind guides!  Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. Blind Pharisee!  Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


What is the test of authentic spirituality?  Or, to phrase the question differently, what does God require of us?  We ought, when pondering this matter, realize that divinity exists in a realm beyond the limits of our ability to understand; God refuses to fit into our intellectual boxes.  So, as valuable as theology can be (which is to say, very), we need to avoid turning theological concepts into idols.

Karen Armstrong proposes the answer that makes the most sense to me.  Compassion, she says, is the test of authentic spirituality.  Compassion is at the heart of the reading from 1 Thessalonians.  Paul cared deeply for the people of Thessalonica, so he shared his life with them.  Compassion impelled Jesus, too.  This helps explain why he was so critical of those who, in the name of God, obsessed over small matters while neglecting what mattered most–that is, to love God with everything and each other as one self.

Compassion transcends species.  The most appropriate image I could find for this post is the one I have attached to it.  I have provided a link to its source, and the story is worth reading.  David Dixon and Paul Ortega, of Palm Springs, California, rescued four kittens from a trash bag in 2010.  Two survived.  Dixon and Ortega named the survivors Scooter and Dixie.  The men bottle fed the kittens until this was no longer necessary.  The kittens became well and the humans decided to keep them.

Admittedly I have a soft spot for cats, especially vulnerable kittens.  Felines are creatures of God and agents of grace, and human compassion ought to extend to all who are vulnerable, regardless of species.  Jesus would approve of what Dixon and Ortega have done for these cats.

In contrast I read about honor killings, sometimes by immigrants to the United States.  Those who perpetrate these crimes use religion to justify their actions.  But the God I worship does not approve of honor killings.  The God I worship teaches compassion, condemns honor killings, says to love my neighbor as I love myself, and adores kittens.  (Being part of creation, they fall under the description of “good.”) This God does not always agree me with me.  Indeed, I know that I am wrong about certain points, but remain unsure which ones those are.  But compassion matters more than fine points of theology.

May the hallmark of your faith life, O reader, be compassion.








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Influences, Positive and Negative   1 comment

Above:  Ancient Ruins and Modern Buildings in Saloniki, Greece

(Courtesy of


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


With this post I change translations again.  This is a helpful practice, for it refreshes one’s view of the Scriptures.  My studies of French have revealed to me the accuracy of the statement that any text loses something in translation from Language A into Language B.  So, as I read and study the Bible in English, I seek out various translations.  What one version misses, hopefully another retains.  And this practice helps me to read and hear the texts as if for the first time, for the familiar cadences of the Authorized (King James) Version, with which I grew up, can become obstacles to paying attention to the content.  This principle holds true, regardless of which translation to which one’s brain is attuned.

So, for the next unknown number of weeks, may we read and hear the words of Scripture according to the great Jerusalem Bible, from 1966.


1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (The Jerusalem Bible):

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonika which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; wishing you grace and peace.

We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it became to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.  And you observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord; and it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the gospel, in spite of the great oppression all round you.  This has made you the great example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia since it was from you that the word of the Lord started to spread–and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for the news of your faith in God has spread everywhere.  We do not need to tell other people about it; other people tell us how we started to work among you, how you broke with idolatry when you converted to God and became servants of the real, living God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come down from heaven to save us from the retribution which is coming.

Psalm 149:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

Matthew 23:13-22 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.

Alas for you, blind guides!  You who say, ‘If a man swears by the Temple, it has no force; but if a man swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound.’  Fools and blind!  For which is of greater worth, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?  Or else, ‘If a man swears by the altar it has no force; but if a man swears by the offering that is on the altar, he is bound.’  You blind men!  For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred?  Therefore, when a man swears by the Temple he is swearing by that and the One who dwells in it.  And when a man swears by heaven he is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Acts 17:1-10 tells of the Apostle Paul’s short (three weeks or so) stay in Thessalonica (modern-day Salonika), a prosperous crossroads and center of commerce in Greece.  He met with much hostility from certain Jews, but apparently made a strong and favorable impression on other people, as 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 testifies.  This epistle dates to approximately 50 C.E., a fact which places it roughly equidistant in chronology between the crucifixion (one of Paul’s great themes) and the writing of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the canonical Gospels.  So, when we read 1 Thessalonians, we read one of the oldest documents of the Christian faith.

Paul needed to plant Christianity in Thessalonica because of the three most important factors in real estate:  location, location, and location.  The road that connected Rome to the East was the main thoroughfare in Thessalonica.  So planting a church there helped to spread the Good News of Jesus to many other places.

Paul was in very good spirits in Chapter 1.  His mood darkened as the epistle continued, however.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following covers almost every word of 1 Thessalonians, so I will get to the rest very shortly.  For now let us focus on the text for today;  Paul opens with praise for the renowned faithfulness of the Thessalonian congregation.  He had drawn them to Christ by a lived example, and they were doing likewise for others.  Paul had been a positive influence.

Jesus, in contrast, was angry in Matthew 23.  As much as I have strong disagreements with the Jesus Seminar, I must admit that their Annotated Scholars Version of the Gospels is the most direct rendering of that text for today.

Alas to you

in The Jerusalem Bible becomes

Damn you!

(So much for the Sweet Jesus of many juvenile Sunday School classes!)  But it is clear that Jesus was not being sweet in Matthew 23.  Rather, he was being justifiably critical of professional religious people who imposed needless religious burdens on well-meaning individuals.  These religious elites were, as we say in North America, too clever by half.  They favored ridiculously complicated rules about when swearing an oath was valid.  Jesus cut through these traditions like a knife through soft butter; all religious oaths involved God.

So stop playing games

is my paraphrase of Jesus here.

This seems like a good time to quote Matthew 5:33-37 (The Jerusalem Bible).  This is part of the Sermon on the Mount:

Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors:  You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord.  But I say this to you:  do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king.  Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black.  All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

My cumulative lesson is this:  Lived faithfulness will result from proper attitudes.  How can it not?  Anyhow, we are all examples.  But what kind are you?  What kind of example am I?  We are examples of that which animates us.  May this animating force be God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.  And may his concern for others (in all aspects) be ours as well.  May we follow him.  And as we do this, may we remember these words, from Matthew 6:1:

Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.

Jesus was not always sweet, but he was inspiring and wise.  He still is.





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