Matthew 23:13-30 – “Eight Woes”
I find the Pharisees to be – perhaps strangely – a strong example of how easily human nature comes between us and the truth of the Gospel. The roots of Pharisaism were in a movement meant to return Jews to right belief and right practice at a time when pagan culture (namely Greek) was overtaking their own culture and religious practices (the period between the Old and New Testaments). Instead, as evidenced in Jesus’ words here, they created a set of rules that actually drew them away from what God really wanted.
So, what does this have to do with human nature? Humans like rules. I know, most people would disagree. We don’t want to be told what to do, but think about it. We’d rather have rules that clearly define how we get to Heaven (Be good! Don’t hurt people!) than deal with this ethereal “relationship with God” thing. It’s easier!
Scripture points us to right behavior, but it is also clear that right behavior is meaningless without the right heart. Otherwise, why would Jesus come down on the Pharisees here?
It’s also easier when the rules serve to make me look good without my having to worry about other people.
You see, the Pharisees missed the point – the Law never saved anyone, not even a Jew. The Law existed for the people to maintain relationships with God and one another. Hence, the two greatest commandments:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
If that wasn’t happening, the Law wasn’t serving its purpose.
Sadly, many Christians – those of us who live under the New Covenant in which Christ has fulfilled the Law – still want it this way. We want the rules. Even though they don’t teach this way with words, many churches teach this way by example. It’s not about going to Bible study or Sunday morning worship or putting in time in the food pantry. Those things are all good things, but they must all grow out of love.
This is not to say there is no place in the Christian life for duty. Let’s face it. Sometimes, we don’t feel like doing the things that we know we ought to do. We should do them anyway because they are our duty as followers of Jesus.
It’s a line that is easy to cross, as the Pharisees show us. We must do our duty, but we don’t just do it for the sake of duty. We do our duty because we love the God who first loved us and the people whom He loves.