Be careful not to exclude certain people – 14 September 2022
By Ben Fourie
Jesus Condemns their Hypocrisy
What a contrast between the verses in Matthew 23:13-36 and those in Matthew 5:3-12. A few days ago, we looked at the eight Beatitudes from chapter five. In today’s chapter, we find the so-called seven “woes”, where Jesus told the teachers of the law and the Pharisees: “Woe to you.” My old Penguin English Dictionary tells me the word ‘woe’ means sorrow, grief, misfortune, trouble and cursed am I. The CEV Bible translation says, “you are in trouble”. Strong language all the way!
Interestingly, the first of the seven “woes”, like the first Beatitude, concerns the kingdom of heaven. In the first Beatitude, those who realise how much they need God, receive entrance into the kingdom of heaven as their reward. In contrast, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees are completely unwilling to enter the kingdom and even worse, they try to prevent those who want to go in from entering.
As with the Beatitudes, the seven “woes” also form a unit. When Jesus started listing all the things they do to prevent people from entering the kingdom, they are not just guilty of one, but of all of them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees twisted the laws of God out of all recognition and applied it so strictly, that Jesus told them in Matthew 23:24: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” They were so strict that anyone wanting to become a follower of Jesus was immediately banned from the synagogue and, sometimes, prosecuted. Many, who were interested in what Jesus was teaching, were so intimidated by this that they turned back to the Jewish faith and, therefore, the kingdom became closed to them.
We, as followers of Jesus, have to be very careful not to make the same mistake as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. I am very sad to see the letters in newspapers and comments on social media from people who are put off from church or religion, by the unyielding way some “church people” or “believers” think about religious matters. How sad it would be if, one day, I have to hear from God that my unyielding view of some religious matter closed the kingdom for someone else. May the “woe to you” never be said to me.
Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, please keep me from saying or doing that which might keep someone else from entering into your kingdom. Amen