Archive for the ‘Matthew 23’ Tag

Devotion for the First Sunday in Lent (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:  Amos

Image in the Public Domain

Love, the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses

FEBRUARY 26, 2023


The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Amos 2:4-8, 13-16

Psalm 25:16-18

Galatians 5:2-12

Matthew 23:27-36


The author of Psalm 25 was an observant Jew contending with enemies who disapproved of his piety.  He trusted in God, to whom he appealed for help.

That piety was sorely lacking in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  (Aside:  I recommend reading all of Amos 2, for doing so makes the designated passages thereof more meaningful than they are otherwise.)  That lack of piety, made manifest in ritual offenses and violations of human dignity (including the infamous selling of the poor for a poor of sandals in 2:6) YHWH was most displeased.  Dire consequences ensued.

Although Amos supported the Law of Moses, the attitude of St. Paul the Apostle in Galatians was different.  For St. Paul requiring a Gentile convert to Christianity to become a Jew first was wrong.  The apostle had written earlier in that epistle that the Law of Moses was like a disciplinarian or house servant who performed his or her work until the arrival of Christ (Chapter 3:23f):

The distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised is irrelevant in Christ.  What counts is faith that expresses itself in love, because love is the fulfillment of the Law (5:14; Romans 13:8-10).

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 2087

That love was absent from the attitudes and actions of certain scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-36.

In all fairness I feel obligated to defend the motivations of the Judaizers, of whom St. Paul was critical.  Although I am grateful for St. Paul and his work, from which I, as a Gentile, benefit, I acknowledge the pious motives of the Judaizers, defenders of tradition, as they understood it.  I think of them as pious folk who took to heart passages such as Amos 2 and Psalm 25.  Nevertheless, their error, I perceive, was on of which I have been guilty:  maintaining barriers God has knocked down.

We humans like boundaries, literal as well as metaphorical.  They tell us who falls into what category.  There are divinely established categories, I affirm, but they are not necessarily ours.  Furthermore, we might not know where the differences between God’s plan and our definitions lie.  This fact complicates one’s quest to lead a holy life, does it not?

I offer no easy answers regarding how to read God’s mind, for nobody cam read the divine mind.  I do, however, suggest that trusting in God’s grace to treat each other selflessly and self-sacrificingly is a fine spiritual discipline, for love is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, which contains both timeless principles and culturally specific examples thereof.







Devotion for Saturday Before the Second Sunday in Lent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod--James Tissot

Above:  Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Two Killings

MARCH 12, 2022


The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27


The Assigned Readings:

Psalm 118:26-29

Psalm 27

Matthew 23:37-39


Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call;

have mercy on me and answer me.

–Psalm 27:7, Book of Common Worship (1993)


Psalm 118 is a song of praise to God after a military victory.  Literary echoes of the text are apparent in the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Consider this verse, O reader:

Blessed be who enters in the name of Yahweh,

we bless you in the house of Yahweh.

–Psalm 118:26, The Anchor Bible:  Psalms III:  101-150 (1970), by Mitchell Dahood, S.J.

That allusion fits well, for, when Jesus entered Jerusalem that fateful week, he did so not as a conquering hero but as one who had conquered and who was en route to the peace talks.  A victorious monarch rode a beast of burden to the negotiations for peace.  Jesus resembled a messianic figure who had won a battle.  He was not being subtle, nor should he have been.

The tone of the assigned reading from Matthew 23 fits the tone of the verse from Psalm 27 better, however.  Psalm 27 consists of two quite different poems with distinct tenors.  Part I is happy and confident, but Part II comes from a place of concern and a context of peril.  The latter distinction is consistent with Christ’s circumstances between the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion.

Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or seeker-sensitive Jesus.  That Jesus’s hair is nice and combed.  His robes are sparkling white, and his face is aglow as he hovers about six inches off the ground.  He hugs people a lot, speaks in calm tones, and pats little children on the head as he tells his audience, only four chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, that the kingdom belongs “to such as these” (Matt. 19:14; cf. Mark 10:14/Luke 18:16).  The Jesus of Matt. 23 is of a different sort.  He is fired up and within a word or two of unleashing some profanity in the style of a high school football coach.  This Jesus’s hair is untamed.  His clothes are beaten and tattered from a semitransient lifestyle.  His face and neck are reddened by the Palestinian sun, and his feet are blistered, cracked, and calloused.  There is a wild look in his eyes, sweat pouring down his forehead, and spit flying off his lips when he yells, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 39; cf. 23:16).  His message ends not with a head pat to a child and an aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed (23:34-37).

When you finish reading Jesus’s tirade against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23, you might need a deep breath.  Those who have grown all too accustomed to the teddy-bear Jesus may need to reassess wholesale their idea of Jesus.  At the very least, we can point to the text and affirm that, when early Christians such as Matthew commemorated Jesus’s life in the form of narrative Gospels, they portrayed a Jewish teacher who was embroiled in heated controversy with other Jewish teachers and gave as good as he got.

–Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite:  The Origins of the Conflict (2014), page 5


You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters!  Damn you!

–Matthew 23:29a, The Complete Gospels:  Annotated Scholars Version (1994)

Literary context matters.  Immediately prior to Matthew 23:37-39, the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem, our Lord and Savior, having engaged in verbal confrontations with religious authorities, denounces the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, power plays, impiety, violence, and inner impurity.  Immediately after Matthew 23:37-39 comes Matthew 24, in which Christ speaks apocalyptically, as in Mark 13 and Luke 21.  (The order of some of the material differs from one Synoptic Gospel to another, but these are obviously accounts of the same discourse.)  Jesus is about to suffer and die.

Matthew 23:34-39 echoes 2 Chronicles 24:17-25.  In 2 Chronicles 24 King Joash/Jehoash of Judah (reigned 837-800 B.C.E.), having fallen into apostasy and idolatry, orders the execution (by stoning) of one Zechariah, son of the late priest Jehoiada.  Zechariah’s offense was to confront the monarch regarding his apostasy and idolatry.  The priest’s dying wish is

May the LORD see and avenge!

–2 Chronicles 24:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The theology of the narrative holds that God saw and avenged, given the subsequent killing of Joash/Jehoash by servants.

A contrast between that story and the crucifixion of Jesus becomes clear.  Never does Jesus say

May the LORD see and avenge!

or anything similar to it.  One cannot find Christ’s prayer for forgiveness for the crown and those who crucified him in Matthew or Mark, but one can locate it at Luke 23:34, which portrays him as a righteous sufferer, such as the author of Part II of Psalm 27.

The example of Jesus has always been difficult to emulate.  That example is, in fact, frequently counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.  Love your enemies?  Bless those who persecute you?  Take up your cross?  Really, yes.  It is possible via grace.  I know the difficulty of Christian discipleship.  It is a path I have chosen, from which I have strayed, and to which I have returned.  The goal is faithfulness, not perfection.  We are, after all, imperfect.  But we can do better, by grace.








Twelfth Day of Lent   19 comments

A Slum Near Cairo, Egypt

Image Source = Katonams

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Collect and lections from the Episcopal Lesser Feasts and Fasts Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints


Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….

Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Isaiah 1:2-20 (Revised English Bible):

Let the heavens and the earth give ear, for it is the LORD who speaks:

I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.

An ox knows its owner and a donkey its master’s stall;

but Israel lacks all knowledge, my people has no discernment.

You sinful nation, a people weighed down with iniquity,

a race of evildoers, children whose lives are depraved,

who have deserted the LORD, spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned your backs on him!

Why do you invite more punishment, why persist in your defection?

Your head is all covered with sores, your whole body is bruised;

from head to foot there is not a sound spot in you–nothing but weals and welts and raw wounds

which have not felt compress or bandage or the soothing touch of oil.

Your country is desolate, your cities burnt down.

Before your eyes strangers devour your land; it is as desolate as Sodom after its overthrow.

Only Zion is left, like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard,

like a hut in a plot of cucumbers, like a beleaguered city.

Had the LORD of Hosts not left us a few survivors,

we would have become like Sodom, no better than Gomorrah.

Listen to the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom;

give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah:

Your countless sacrifices, what are they to me? says the LORD.

I am sated with the whole-offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed cattle;

I have no desire for the blood of bulls, of sheep, and of he-goats,

when you come into presence.

Who has asked you for all this?

No more shall you tread my courts.

To bring me offerings is futile;

the reek of sacrifice is abhorrent to me.

New moons and sabbaths and sacred assemblies–

such idolatrous ceremonies I cannot endure.

I loathe your new moons and your festivals;

they have become a burden to me, and I can tolerate them no longer.

When you hold out your hands in prayer, I shall turn away my eyes.

Though you offer countless prayers, I shall not listen;

there is blood on your hands.

Wash and be clean;

put your evil deeds far from my sight;

cease to do evil, learn to do good.

Pursue justice, guide the oppressed;

uphold the rights of the fatherless,

and plead the widow’s cause.

Now come, let us argue this out, says the LORD.

Though your sins are scarlet, they may yet be white as snow;

though they are dyed crimson, they may become white as wool.

If you are willing to obey, you will eat the best that the earth yields;

but if you refuse and rebel, the sword will devour you.

The LORD himself has spoken.

Psalm 50:7-24 (Revised English Bible):

Listen, my people, and I shall speak; I shall bear witness against you, Israel:

I am God, your God.

Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, your whole-offerings always before me;

I need no young bull from your farmstead, no he-goat from your folds;

for all the living creatures of the forest are mine and the animals in their thousands on my hills.

I know every bird on those mountains; the teeming life of the plains is my care.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and that is in it are mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of he-goats?

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and fulfill your vows to the Most High;

then if you call to me in time of trouble, I shall come to your rescue, and you will honour me.

God’s word to a wicked person is this:

What right have you to recite my statutes, to take the words of my covenant on your lips?

For you hate correction and cast my words out of your sight.

If you meet a thief, you choose him as your friend, and you make common cause with adulterers;

freely you employ your mouth for evil  and harness your tongue to deceit.

You are forever talking against your brother, imputing faults to your mother’s son.

When you have done these things, and kept silence,

you thought that I was someone like yourself;

but I shall rebuke you and indict you to your face.

You forget God, but think well on this,

lest I tear you in pieces and there will be no one to save you:

he honours me who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and to him who follows my way I shall show the salvation of God.

Matthew 23:1-12 (Revised English Bible):

Jesus then addressed the crowds and his disciples in these words:

The scribes and the Pharisees occupy Moses’ seat; so be careful to do whatever they tell you.  But do not follow their practice; for they say one thing and do another.  They make up heavy loads and pile them on the shoulders of others, but will not themselves lift a finger to ease the burden.  Whatever they do is done for show.  They go about wearing broad phylacteries and with large tassels on their robes; they love to have the place of honour at feasts and the chief seats in synagogues, to be greeted respectfully in the street, and to be addressed as ‘rabbi.’

But you must not be called ‘rabbi,’ for you have one Rabbi, and you are all brothers.  Do not call any man on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor must you be called ‘teacher;’ you have one Teacher, the Messiah.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The Collect:

O God, you willed to redeem us from all iniquity by your Son: Deliver us when we are tempted to regard sin without abhorrence, and let the virtue of his passion come between us and our mortal enemy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Point #1:

Growing up in a series of small congregations (interlocking extended families, really) as  a pastor’s son I have a certain perspective on the causes of conflict in some churches.  When a person with an imbalanced ego has a position (with or without a title) of authority or influence in a congregation that person can wreak havoc.  The person with a weak ego uses his or her position as an ego crutch, which he or she defends, often destructively to the body of Christ.  Likewise, the person with a raging ego uses his or her ecclesiastical status to demonstrate a false proprietorship.  The result is not the building up of the body of Christ.

This day’s reading from Matthew reflects the Gospel ethic of “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  Proper ecclesiastical leadership builds up the body of Christ, not the ego of the leader.  This model extends to leadership in other settings.

Point #2:

Sin is both individual and corporate.  The dominant variety of Christianity in the Bible Belt emphasizes individual sin, sometimes to the exclusion of corporate sin.  A balanced understanding of sin addresses both varieties.

Consider, for example, the question of “fallen women” in the United States during the early 1800s.  Many prostitutes of that time had one alternative to selling their bodies.  That option was starvation.  They lived in a society which did not educate women (except to be homemakers) or prepare them for careers.  So a young and unmarried woman alienated from her family and lacking friends had few options.  Without justifying prostitution, was not the subordination of women (the societal sin) a major contributing factor to prostitution?

It is easy to focus on individual sin to the exclusion of corporate sin.  This is a seductive approach for various reasons, among them convenience.  Yet this leaves much important work undone.  Is it acceptable, for example, to lecture about family values while keeping wages depressed, thereby harming families?  In this scenario a consistent ethic of supporting family values entails paying workers enough to that they can support their families better.  And it involves one’s profit margin and business model.  What would Isaiah say about this?

The imperative of economic justice is a major theme in the Bible.  The prophet Isaiah addressed this issue in this day’s Old Testament reading.  Biblical authors made clear that God disapproves of economic injustice, and so should people.  Society does come into existence formed fully; people shape it.  And people can reshape it.

This is a question of loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Jesus spoke of that.

I conclude with an old Franciscan blessing:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for
justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may
reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you
and remain with you, this day and forevermore.



Written on February 22, 2010

Posted October 28, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2023, Episcopal Church Lectionary, March 7

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