Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Daily Devotional: February 24

Khabouris Codex, Matt. 23:13-25 (c.a 1000CE)

Week 5, Day 3, the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 23

The way Jesus has behaved in our readings over the past few days, it is almost as if He is trying to get Himself killed. Every opportunity to disrupt the system in Jerusalem, He does. In today's passage, we see the most straightforward and deliberate attack of those in power in the entire book of Matthew.
The Pharisees, if you haven't been reading along with these every day, were a sect of Judaism gaining popularity in the first century. They were the power brokers in Jerusalem because many people viewed them as a group of exceedingly righteous men, and in those days your righteousness was social currency.
Jesus is constantly followed by Pharisees and some scholars believe it is because the Pharisees were trying to decide if Jesus was one of them. Some even go as far as to say Jesus was a Pharisee Himself, which is how He is able to admonish them so directly so often. Whatever the case may be, they are a symbol in the gospel of Matthew of religious fundamentalism.
Are you straining gnats?
Jesus' main beef with the Pharisees in this passage isn't one of theology, but one of practice. It's the difference between knowing what to do, and doing it with the right intentions. Winning converts but then burdening them with dead religion is worthless. Following the letter of the law while completely ignoring your neighbor in need is the height of religious nonsense. How many times do we see the argument against Christianity boiled down to the exact things Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for in this passage. 
Are you straining gnats?
In today's passage, the Pharisees are the audience surrogate, in my opinion. They are standing in for us. For any of us who have been guilty of going through the motions of spirituality without ever changing our hearts or minds. For any of us who have judged the sin of someone without giving any thought to that person's burden. For any of us who have been pleased when someone recognizes our "goodness." We have all at times been whitewashed tombs.
We have all strained gnats and swallowed camels. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, hypocrisy is part of the human experience. It is in our bones to be disingenuous. We have to be vigilant to protect our hearts from becoming this way. 
Are you straining gnats?
Do you hold people to a standard you can't keep? Do you judge people by their actions and forget about their heart?   

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.