August 23, 2015 | text: Matthew 23:1-12, 23-24
All of Matthew 23 prescribes woe to the scribes and Pharisees but I would like to focus on two particular paragraphs. Jesus speaks of the Pharisees sitting on the seat of Moses. Moses had led Israel a little over 40 years, from the time of the plagues in Egypt to their entrance into the Promised Land. The 10 Commandments had been given by the hand of Moses at Sinai as well as the body of the whole Law (the Commandments being merely a summary). During their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses had listened to cases and settled disputes, after conferring with God and then establishing what we could call case law. Jesus says the Pharisees sit in judgement over the people the way Moses did but issued this warning: Listen to what they say but do not do what they do. The Pharisees did not practice what they preached. We are commanded, however, to do the things Jesus did as we are conformed to his image.
Then in verse 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matt 23:23
The Pharisees became managers of the minutia but totally missed the bigger picture. They were splitting hairs, tithing even out of their spice racks, but would let widows starve in the street. In Luke’s account of the same sermon (Luke 11) Jesus says they have “neglected the love of God.” Jesus chastised the Pharisees rulers for neglecting love, mercy and justice but he also told them the other commandments they were keeping should not be neglected either. Jesus did not abolish the Law and the Prophets but was rather the fulfillment of them.
Consider the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reminded the people what they heard the scribes and Pharisees teach but told them they should do even more. If compelled to walk one mile, walk two. If sued for your coat, give them your cloak also. Hating your brother makes you just as guilty as murder. Looking at a women with lust is committing adultery already in your heart! Jesus complaint against the Pharisees was not that they were teaching others to keep the Law. His gripe was about the weightier matters of the Law they overlooked and the fact they burden others to keep the Law while doing nothing themselves.
In John 8, a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus. We all know his response; “Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.” When the woman saw there no accuser, Jesus said that he would not condemn her either. BUT he told to go and sin no more. Jesus did not put an end to the commandments. He told his followers that those who love him will keep his commandments. He identified the greatest commandments as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength” and also “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Those were not new commands, he was quoting Leviticus and Deuteronomy!
You cannot break any one of the 10 Commandments if you set out to keep those two greatest commands from the start. If you love God with all your heart/soul/mind/strength then you will not use his name in vein, put another God before him, etc. If you love your neighbor as yourself you will not lie to him, steal from him or kill him. All of our attempts to live righteously will fall short of perfection. But that’s what the Gospel message is about. Jesus took within himself on the cross the due penalty for our transgressions, and in the great exchange which is salvation we receive the credit for his righteousness.