Friday 09 December 2011

Bible Book:

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house to left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (vv. 37-39)

Matthew 23:27-39 Friday 9 December 2011


The first part of today's passage completes a series of "Woes"lamenting the flawed approach to religion of the most respectedJewish teachers. (The first part was in yesterday's passage). Ritual purity was oneaspect of their approach, so tombs and decorative bone-containerswere whitewashed at festival times when the city was crowded sothat people would not inadvertently touch them and become defiled.This whitewashing illustrates the idea that a person's outwardbehaviour may be quite inconsistent with what they are like on theinside.

Verses 29-36 takes up the love at that time of building splendidmonuments to dead heroes rather than paying careful attention totheir message. The scribes and Pharisees fail to take seriously thefact that many prophets were persecuted and killed by authorityfigures like themselves, and to recognise that they are cast in thesame mould. Abel is the first martyr in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis4:6-10) and Zechariah the last (2Chronicles 24:20-22) in that Chronicles is the last book in theJewish ordering of the Old Testament. In both cases the biblicalreports emphasise that the murder incurs a guilt that mustultimately be satisfied.

From verse 34 onwards Jesus develops the idea that the Jewishrebellion against God's true messengers will reach its climax, andincur such a retribution, within the generation he is addressing.Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, and note that withinforty years the Jewish rebellion led to the Roman destruction ofJerusalem and its temple and the effective end of the Pharisaicform of the Jewish faith.

Jews did not practise crucifixion, so the reference in verse 34shows how the fate of Jesus, whom the gospels portray as knowing hewill be crucified, is bound up with that of the Jewish religion.The real grief Jesus feels over Jerusalem's impending fate isexpressed in the sad lament at the end of this passage, and whichprepares the way for a fuller treatment in the next chapter of thejudgement which is coming.

Some had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with the words that end thispassage (see Matthew 21:9); the whole verse expresses thefact that Jesus's earthly ministry is now over and may appear tohave failed, but "from now on" (a better translation than "again"(v. 39)) he will only be known by those who are able to welcome himas the Messiah or servant king he truly is.

To Ponder

How far are we any better than our ancestors?Have we learned from the errors of past generations or are weusually inclined to repeat them?

In what ways do you find yourself tempted to hidewhat you are really like from yourself and from others?

What might the words of Jesus in verse 37 have tosay to the Palestinians and Israelis who live in the dividedJerusalem of today?

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