While chewing my way through Matthew's gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven, it's become clear why the religious leaders hated Jesus and conspired to kill him.
Jesus publicly proclaimed bold, offensive things to their faces. He poked the bear.
Woe ... You Hypocrites!
In Matthew 23, Jesus uses parallel structure to upbraid the religious leaders. Seven times, he explodes on them:
"Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!"
Wow. "Them's fightin' words." That's not merely poking the bear – it's poking the bear in the eye. Seven times. With a letter opener.
Let me line these seven up for you. "Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! ...
- "You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."
- "You make a single convert twice as much a son of hell as you are."
- "You are blind guides! ... blind fools! ... blind men!"
- "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
- "You are full of greed and self-indulgence..."
- "You are like whitewashed tombs ... full of everything unclean ... full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
- "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?"
Blind Guides, Gnats, and Camels
Jesus' language is vivid, compelling, and damning. Whitewashed tombs. Snakes, vipers, hell. But the two analogies I find most compelling in his assessment of the religious leaders:
- Blind Guides. Can you think of anything more dangerous than a Guide who cannot see? Imagine you're trekking up the side of a mountain, with narrow footholds and deadly drop-offs. Are you comfortable entrusting your life ... to a guide who cannot see? Won't you both end up falling off a cliff? Ironically, the "Guides" Jesus scolds are the ones who advertise their keen, 20/20 vision.
- Gnats and Camels. Jesus is a genius at using common, tangible, daily items to make his point. Throughout his teaching, Jesus employs many images or props as analogies ...
- Lost sheep
- Mustard seeds
- Vines and branches
- A Pearl
- Birds that don't work
- A plank of wood
- Foxes in holes
- Living water
In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus uses one of my favorites: Straining out a tiny gnat while swallowing an enormous camel. He accuses the religious leaders of excessive attention to secondary concerns (tithing spices is like straining a gnat from your soup), while neglecting primary concerns (justice, mercy, faithfulness) is ridiculous malpractice – like swallowing a camel! In other words, they're majoring in the minors, while minoring in the majors.
Whoa! He Said, "Woe!"
Finally, don't miss Jesus' sevenfold assertion: Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! It's not a word we tend to use today, so it deserves a definition. Woe means: a divine pronouncement of judgment; doomed. That's serious business for all of us.
Jesus, the "Gentle and Lowly Savior of the contrite" is also the "Poke-the-Bear-in-the-Eye-Accuser" of the religious, hypocritical leader.
Jesus. There is no one like him.