Thursday of Trinity 21 – Matthew 23:13-23

| October 31, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Matthew 23:13-23

It would be easy to hammer the scribes and Pharisees again today.  Really, they’ve made themselves such easy targets!  And Jesus Himself spends one of the longest red-letter passages in the Bible wailing on them.  So I’d have a good precedent and could claim to be following Jesus.

But, you see, it’s too easy.  The scribes and Pharisees are long dead, and so it would be too safe to simply beat up on them one more time from the safe distance of 2 millennia.  No, I need a more contemporary target.  I could easily pick on the scribes and Pharisees of today, you know, someone like the televangelists who preach about the need to give sacrificially and then ride around in BMWs or Audis.

But even that would be too easy because I’m not a televangelist.  In fact, since this is a devotional commentary, guess who gets stuck playing the role of the scribes and Pharisees today?  That’s right: you and me.  Me, because I’m always the first target of my own slings and arrows.  I’m the messenger, and I always get hit first.  I’m my own first audience and my own theological guinea pig.  And then, of course, if I haven’t died from my own prescription, then I generously send it your way!

That’s the point of Give Us This Day: it’s my Give Us This Day, and its your Give Us This Day.  We are the ones who must eat our daily bread if it is to do us any good.

And so today I, and then you, must play the role of the scribes and Pharisees.  It’s not that difficult a role to play, you know.  It’s not like I, or you, haven’t been hypocritical and done what we said we should not do and not done what we said we should do.

There is one major modification that you and I must make when we read such passages, however: being the recipients of the grace and love of Jesus Christ, He does not pronounce a litany of woes against us.  It would be wrong to directly apply such passages to a heart that truly loves the Lord.  We are not, if we truly love the Lord and are willing to follow Him, the sons of hell, as Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees in verse 15.  (Such passages easily disprove the notion that Jesus was not judgmental).

So what is there in this passage for you and for me?  I find that when I listen to the voice of Jesus in this passage, He is, indeed, speaking to me.  Like I said a moment ago, I don’t hear him saying, “Woe to you, Charles David, hypocrite!”  But I do hear Him speaking to me nonetheless.  Instead, I see that He has set me down to come and listen to Him.  He sits me down patiently and gently today, even though He has come to correct and even rebuke me.  He pauses, as if to think of what He should say, but I know that this is just to allow me time to worry about what He might say and to focus my attention all on Him.

In good Jesus fashion, I hear Him asking me a series of thought-provoking questions.  This is no lecture: He wants me to be the one actively thinking about my life as His disciple.  As He, my Master and Teacher, administers His test to me, He allows me to grade it myself because He wants me to be mature and be honest with myself.  He knows that only if I am honest with myself and take responsibility for my life with Him will I ever grow in grace and stature in His kingdom.

“Have you been making a pretense of long prayers, (insert your name here)?  Have you been doing things in my name so that you might receive the glory and attention?”

And then He pauses.  He actually expects me to examine myself, and so now I will.

There, I’ve done it, but it’s no fair cheating.  I’m not going to let you see my answers because it wouldn’t do your soul any good (and it might prove highly embarrassing to me!)

“Have you traveled land and sea to win one proselyte and, when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you?  Have you zealously presented yourself as a Christian, but then when it comes time to live as Christ among other Christians you’ve acted selfishly?”

Again, He pauses.  He wants an honest answer.  There’s no one but the two of us here, and He already knows the answer.  Now that I’m aware of His presence with me, somehow it seems ridiculous that I would ever actually pretend that He isn’t here and won’t notice.  Again, He will wait for you to answer as well.  And He doesn’t mind if you can’t think of anything this time: He just wants you to be honest, not to make up stuff to sound pious.

“Have you rewritten my commandments so that they suit you better and you can feel good about keeping them?”

He pauses a little longer this time.  How did He know I needed more time to think about it?  Oh yeah, that’s right.

“Have you paid the tithe of mint and anise and cummin but neglected justice and mercy and faith?  Have you made yourself feel good by keeping outward spiritual things but have neglected what I most truly desire?  Have you said you were a Christian and even gone to church but not truly had a heart that desires Me?”

He pauses a lot longer this time.  I keep looking up at Him to see if He’s ready to go on to the next question, but I forget that He’s infinitely patient.  I keep examining myself and keep finding more ways in which He’s calling me to deeper things.  It’s in this longest silence of His that I see exactly what He’s doing.  He’s not asking me these questions to embarrass me: it’s only the two of us, and He already knows my faults.  He’s not doing it to make me feel like a slug who’s just had salt poured all over him (though this may be a by-product of such an examination).

He’s asking me these deep questions and pausing so that I can discover the variety of ways that I’ve wandered away from Him or settled for images of Him instead of the real deal.  He’s testing me in such a way that I may see how much I need Him and miss Him.  He’s not condemning me: I’ve already done that to myself!  He’s showing me the way to forgiveness and His presence.  He’s showing me, therefore, the way to peace and joy.

But He has one last word to say to me.  He tells me that it’s not wise for me to go away sad, storing up all of the ways I have failed Him.  What He says He wants is for me to ask forgiveness for all of them, and to ask for His help in being delivered from them.  And then He asks me one final question:
“Are you willing to begin today to work on just one of these ways in which I desire for you to come closer to me?”
Am I!

Prayer:  I am perfectly sensible, O my God, that I have in many ways offended Thy divine majesty, and provoked Thy wrath by my sins; and that if I obtain not pardon I shall be cast out of thy sight forever. I desire, therefore, at present to call myself to an account, and look into all the sins whereby I have displeased Thee; but O my God, how miserably shall I deceive myself if Thou assist me not in this work by Thy heavenly light. Grant me, therefore, at present, Thy grace, whereby I may discover all my imperfections, see all my failings, and duly call to mind all my sins: for I know that nothing is hidden from Thy sight. But I confess myself in the dark as to my own failings: my passions blind me, self-love flatters me, presumption deludes me, and though I have many sins which stare me in the face, and cannot be hidden, yet how many, too, are there quite concealed from me! But discover even those to me, O Lord! enlighten my darkness, cure my blindness, and remove every veil that hides my sins from me, that I may be no longer a secret to myself, nor a stranger to my own failings, not ever flatter myself with the thoughts of having repented, an at the same time nourish folly and vice within my breast. Come, Holy Ghost, and by a beam of Thy divine light illumine my understanding, that I may have a perfect view of all my sins and iniquities, and that, sincerely repenting of them, I may know Thee, and be again received into Thy favor; through Jesus Christ, my Mediator and Advocate.  Amen. 

Point for Meditation:  What is the one way Jesus is showing you today He would like you to come closer to Him?

Resolution:  I resolve to examine myself, listening for the one way Jesus is telling me to come to Him.  I further resolve to come to Him in that one way today. 

© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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