Day Thirty-three: Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 23:1-39
Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:
Psalm one is a foundational passage for the people of God. The psalm proclaims blessing.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
This psalm of blessing also proclaims woe for those who do not follow God’s ways. After proclaiming blessing for those who follow God’s ways, we read…
“Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Having been alerted to the blessings and the woes in the opening psalm, the one who continues on in the psalms is choosing the path of blessedness, listening to the word of God, meditating on the word of God, indeed, seeking to be like a tree planted by streams of water. The blessing invites us to draw near to God. The woe warns us to guard against selfish and evil desires that pull us from God.
Early in Matthew Jesus spoke words of blessing to the people, the words of the Beatitudes. Now late in the gospel, in Matthew chapter 23, as things are coming to a head, Jesus speaks words of woe. Seven times Jesus will say woe. Jesus will say woe to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, woe to ones he calls blind guides, woe to ones he repeatedly calls hypocrites.
We cannot change how the people who heard these woes responded. Their response is recorded in all four of the gospels. They did not heed the warning. We cannot change how the people who heard these woes responded. What we can control is our response.
What do you hear in the woes found in Matthew 23? What actions warrant the words of woe? What attitudes warrant the words of woe? If the words of Jesus hit close to home for us, we do well to heed his warnings and act appropriately. Remember that both John the Baptist and Jesus called for the people to repent because the kingdom of heaven was near. How might we take these words of woe to heart? How might we repent?
Luke’s gospel also has words of blessing and words of woe. Luke weaves the blessings and woes together in one place, a sermon Jesus preaches in Luke chapter 6. Matthew has separated the blessings and the woes by nearly 20 chapters. I encourage you to bring the blessings and woes together today as you read. The woes are found in today’s reading, Matthew 23.
The blessings from Matthew 5.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“In the Sermon on the Mount, which the Beatitudes began, Jesus taught how to live; in the Sermon of Woes Jesus teaches how not to live. (The Sermon of Woes is the counterpart of the Sermon on the Mount). Since Jesus baptizes with both Spirit and Fire (Matthew 3:11), and since Jesus is both Savior and Judge, we should allow him both to bless and to warn. Yet the church that follows Jesus has been called to extend only God’s saving mission into the world; she has
been explicitly forbidden to exercise God’s judgment (Matthew 7:1-3…thou shall not judge), except in the discipline of her own community (Chapters 7, 16, 18 in Matthew)….We must be careful to apply this chapter first to ourselves as Christians and then to our practices as churches….” (Dale Bruner, The Churchbook, p. 809)