High on talk, low on walk – Matthew Chapter 23: 27-32

Consider this for a moment; Jesus has taken on the might of the Jewish establishment in the temple itself and none of what he has to say is remotely easy to stomach. He has already pronounced five of the seven woes against the Scribes and the Pharisees and now before he steps into the fifth discourse, the eschatological discourse, he comes down heavily on the Jewish religious establishment

While our texts today will end at verse 32, it would do well to read the text till verse 36. For all those who thought that Jesus was dangerously out of line when he made a whip and drove the money changers out of the temple, his words in Chapter 23 will be louder than his actions. The words we hear him speak barely reflect the Jesus we have come to know; the one who is mild and meek.

The last two woes deal with all things dead, be they the prophets or their tombs. The very topic of death and all its trappings were linked to Jewish rites of impurity. Touching a dead person or for that matter a tombstone could render you ritually unclean. It was for this reason that the Jews took great pains to white wash their tombs less some hapless Jew stumbles on one of them and is now unclean. The whitewashing of tombs served as a sign board of warning.

While these tombs looked all pretty and well maintained, they could not mask the reality of their contents. In comparing the Jewish establishment to white washed tombs Jesus was declaring not only their spiritual reality but a warning to the masses to stay away from these polluted ones. Ironically it was the Pharisees (meaning separated ones ) who wanted to be set apart by their holiness. Their inward decay which was concealed with an attractive veneer of political and social responsibility now stood exposed. They were high on talk, low on walk.

And now for the final blow! Christ suddenly revealed himself as the Judge of those evil people and dramatically assumed the prerogatives of judgment and gave sentence against those who had the vanity to suppose they were judging him! They are nothing short of the murderers of the prophets by virtue that they admit that it was their ancestors who murdered the prophets.

Perhaps most people would love to gloss over this Chapter, especially when you have come to personally avoid confrontation and live in a world where all hold hands singing ‘kumbaya’.  But Jesus is no pushover when he wants to express his mind. His words may sound harsh but they were driven by love and a desire to weed out the rot. This is the love we are called to have, firm yet just for true love is righteous and holy.

As Chapter 23 draws to a close, we see that Jesus who was rejected now rejects the Jewish establishment. The cursing of the fig tree was not just a moment of anger but a sign for Israel was metaphorically (see Jeremiah) referred to as a fig tree. Now that the tree has been cursed it is a matter of time that the nation will sink into destruction. ( Matthew 22:7)

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