Scripture: Matthew 23:27-39
Key verse: (30) “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”
Reflection: We catch Jesus in our text for today right in the middle of laying it out there for the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus is just finishing up a harsh seven “woes” directed at this group. Growing up, the scribes and Pharisees were always taught to me like my personal punching bag, highlight all of their shortcomings, giving them a good hit since they couldn’t hit back, and being thankful that “I wasn’t like them.” However, if we read scripture with the scribes and the Pharisees like our personal punching bags, we fall right into the issue that Jesus was talking about.
We as a people don’t like to hear “no”. From the time we are young throughout our life, this is not a word we enjoy hearing. Just try saying “no” to my 20-month old daughter Foster and her eyes will water up and her chin will quiver. Jesus’ rebuke of “woes” could also be translated as a list of “no’s”. No, don’t appear kind on the surface but harbor malice, hate, and injustice on the inside. No, don’t pretend to honor the prophets of years gone by while treating today’s prophets with disrespect.
While we don’t like to hear no, we need to hear no, we need Jesus’ guidance and judgment to set us on the right path. As we as a nation celebrated our Independence Day this past weekend, I thought of Jesus’ final woe, “Woe to you … for you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’” Jesus’ warning to the scribes and Pharisees challenges them not to play hypothetical with history, therefore feigning innocence, but to repent and learn from history and show growth in the present. As we continue to grapple with our nation’s multifaceted history of freedom and enslavement, advancement and oppression, opportunity and threat, may we not feign innocence with an incomplete history, may we not pretend we would have been any different than our ancestors who have gone before us, may we not play the hypothetical game of what we would have done in a situation. Instead, may we hear “no” and respond. May we deal lovingly, justly, and righteously with those around us, may we listen to the prophets in our midst, and may we seek the guiding presence of Christ, heeding to his loving “no’s” where we need them.
Prayer: Loving God, we give you thanks for guidance. We give you thanks for opportunities to learn and grow. We cannot hide from you, you know our innermost thoughts and our outermost actions when no one else is looking. By your grace, empower us to live boldly and honestly into the people you have called us to be. Amen.
Author: John Magnuson
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].