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Knock out – Monday, 21st week in ordinary time – Mt 23:13-22
Chapter 23 can well be compared to round twelve in a boxing match. The Pharisees and scribes have been sparring with Jesus in chapter nine and now the gloves are off. It seems like a fight to the finish. Jesus, in verse 1-12 has already delivered a jab; and with it He has picked a few good scoring points, but then He launched into a combination of punches; seven of them to be precise.
The Bible records these series of straight punches as the seven ‘woes’ against the Pharisees and scribes. The Greek word for woe is ‘ouai’. It is hard to translate this word for it communicates not only wrath, but also sorrow. Jesus is not just throwing a star tantrum here; this is ‘righteous anger’ tinged with sorrow. This anger, followed by sorrow, is clearly seen when Jesus brings to a close chapter 23 with his lament over Jerusalem.
It is not Israel, His ‘lost sheep’, that is denounced by Jesus but the focus is on the Scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus calls ‘hypocrites’; hupokrites in Greek. A ‘Hupokrite’ in its original context meant one ‘who answers’ to a statement in a dialogue. In its more popular context it came to mean one who ‘acts a part’’. In the truest sense of the word, a hypocrite is an actor but not a genuine one who immerses himself into a role; rather he is one who ‘pretends’ and merely puts on an act. In calling the Pharisees and Scribe hypocrites, Jesus uncovered their masks, thus baring their true thoughts and feelings.
The Gospel text of today covers the first three woes. Consider them to be three good powerful straight punches thrown in a classic “one-two” combination. Before the Pharisees or scribes knew what hit them, He will deliver the ‘knock out’ in verse 29; the last of the woes. But for now the first three punches hit the Pharisees and Scribes where it hurt them the most. They did not see them coming so they could not even ‘slip’ or ‘sway’ and so guard themselves.
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