Monday, July 7, 2014

A Journey With Matthew - Day 37

Read Matthew 23:23-39.

Throughout this journey I've pointed out times when Matthew's polemics can hinder our hearing of "good news" in these texts - and in particular when Christians read the text through the lens of Christian anti-Semitism. It's hard to lay this burden on Matthew himself; he is polemical at a time when Jews who believe Messiah has come and Jews still waiting for Messiah to come are in the midst of a family fight. Tracy Lind's comments in A Journey With Matthew express well this point I have been trying to make. As she points out, these harsh words (that the lectionary chooses to neglect) reveal something of the tensions that existed between Jesus' followers and other Jewish communities of the late first century.

Part of what I've tried to suggest (hardly original to me) is that we not see ourselves as the "good Christians" over and against the "bad scribes and Pharisees," but rather that we see this tendency to resist God's new thing as part of what those who see themselves upholding the tradition need to guard against. In other words, it isn't just first-century scribes and Pharisees who have a tendency to get the small things right but miss the larger, weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith. Lind makes this same interpretative move, seeing these words as "good warning to the church, the body of the Risen Christ. She writes:
If we are willing and able to follow Jesus' advice and take the log out of our own eye, then Matthew's condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees can be a mirror for us. 
This move is always challenging, because it turns out that it's much easier to spot hypocrisy and judgmentalism in others than it is to look in the mirror and then confess our own sins. But when we dare to do just that, the possibility for real transformation is set before us, and the kingdom of heaven is very near.

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