EXODUS 19:16-21:21 | MATTHEW 23:13-39 | PSALM 28:1-9 | PROVERBS 7:1-5
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This is a fearsome God, not one who can be approached at will. Moses is the representative between the Hebrew people and God. God having brought the people out of the land of Egypt and leading them through the desert to the “promised land,” gives to Moses a set of laws, commonly known as the Ten Commandments. And beyond this, there are a number of other laws that are to be observed as well.
The problem with all of this is that is it humanly impossible for the Law and these smaller laws to be observed throughout a lifetime. Well, sure, one could possibly keep the commandment about not committing murder, but who among us has not looked across our neighbor’s fence and not thought the grass greener on his side? And to put a fine point on this, the commandment concerns coveting which is an intangible and invisible emotion, not one that may be measured or even sensed by the other.
So severe is this law that it is impossible to keep it. And God knows this. In his infinite wisdom, God knew that this was so high a bar that it was impossible to fulfill it. And the most important piece in all of this: the people were keeping the Law out of fear, out of mortal fear! The only motivation was fear. Where was the love? What love? There is no love of God here! They did what they did out of mortal fear.
Even the law against idols was practiced not because the people enjoyed a personal relationship with God (for one thing they were forbidden to approach God directly without Moses’ intercession), but because they feared the wrath of God! And later in the other books to come, we will bear witness to the very many cumbersome laws, chief among them being the practice of offering up a live sacrifice for an atonement or a thanksgiving. There is nothing permanent about these sacrificial offerings, either — they’re good only for that one occasion!
Turning next to our reading in the Book of Matthew, we continue learning about the life and times of Jesus. Hypocrites. Blind Guides. Sons of Hell. Blind Fools. Whitewashed Tombs. Snakes. Brood of Vipers. These are the choice names that Jesus has for the Pharisees, the high-priests of the temple.
And why, you ask? Because they are so quick in their efforts to observe the Law and yet it is all meaningless because they have observed only the letter of the law and have completely ignored the spirit of the law! The Law might be perfect, but those who attempt to carry it out are abominable.
Jesus spares no words in telling them just what he thinks. He says, 23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law in every way, and yet it was not in the way that the priests and elders understood the Law to be. They were happy to continue stoning by death and had no concept of things such as mercy and forgiveness. Concepts that Jesus displayed in action every single day. How could it be, they wondered? Who was this man, they thought? Could he be the Messiah they were awaiting? But he’s not upholding the Law!
And so, soon we shall see how this great love of the Law causes these very high-minding religious leaders to put into action a willing conspiracy to condemn Jesus as a blasphemous law-breaker and to deliver him up to the local authorities as a common criminal. Surely, woe is unto them!
Turning next to our reading in the Psalms, we find David’s pleas for help and deliverance replaced with thanksgiving and praise. May it be that like David, we also say:
6 Praise be to the LORD,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
Finally, may it be that like Solomon, wise king of Israel, we might take these words of instruction to heart:
4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and to insight, “You are my relative.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word. Amen.