Earlier in this look at Matthew I had the temerity to suggest that Jesus could get angry and it would not be in our best interests to be on the receiving end when Jesus is angry.
I had to read it several times to begin to consider the level of charges that Jesus makes to the religious rulers of the day. As I hear His words though, in as much as I’m transported to the scene, the words also travel deep to my heart.
It is easy for me to be critical of institutional church and the failing of denominational structures that have been more concerned with maintaining itself rather than unblocking the way for people to get to the Kingdom. It is easy for me to highlight the issues and neglect. It is easy to do that, but that would be missing a crucial point that Jesus has been saying since the first time He opened His mouth and it was recorded in Matthew’s gospel account.
For back in Matthew 5 Jesus is explicit that if I want to be in the Kingdom my righteousness has to exceed that of these religious rulers. In other words, rather than getting bogged down in being critical and annoyed at the failings, I have to be only too aware of living out the flipside of the woes.
Flipside 1 – vs. 13 – Rather than making no effort at getting in and being a hindrance to others, my concern should be doing everything I can to get in there. As a result of that, I won’t be in the place to be an obstacle. Rather as the faithful in times past have blazed a trail, I can follow it likewise and point to others to follow in the path that has been left to enter.
Flipside 2 – vs. 14 – This is a serious charge. No point in praying long eloquent prayers with the wit and wordsmith skills of Shakespeare whilst widows in need of help are actually being taken advantage of having whatever life is sucked out of them. I know of some cases where it’s literally the case that the poor old widows are not being supported at all but are expected to volunteer whatever time they have to the ’cause’. Sad to see. So to flip that over I’ve got to be a vessel through which those who have served for so long are the beneficiaries of practical, soothing, ministry. (That means me shutting up, right? Right.)
Flipside 3 – vs. 15 – Wow. Ouch. I mean read that in your own time and tell me if we’re not guilty of that to some degree even if by association. Kill ourselves giving people tracts and getting them into emotion-filled services, they make the commitment and before you know it, the lively enthused new convert slowly sadly becomes contorted to the sad bitter images of the grumpy set who sit and criticise. Oki-doki. Flipping that over, it’s time to get back to the heart of discipleship – getting back to flipside 1 where my passion for Jesus and His kingdom is evident and infectious by that same spirit that rose Jesus from the dead. Time to sharpen myself against other ironed out brothers who are serious about Jesus and then when others join us on the journey they will likewise be filled with that Spirit of joy to pass the good news to others.
Flipside 4 – vs. 16-22 – In a very real way Jesus combines two crucial threads He’s been saying earlier on in His ministry. Recently He had to highlight to the tricky customers trying to trip Him up that when it came to taxes, as it’s got Caesar’s head on it, you might as well give him what is his, as long as you give to God what is His. Before then way back in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus was clear that when it came to swearing, we should just let our yes be yes here. So the very real pointer in this section of scripture, is rather than being caught up on the wrong things by which to pledge ourselves to, as if material goods are worthy of that much attention, it is so important to be making our declarations according to the throne of God – according to God Himself and stick to our word in allegiance to Him and no other.
Flipside 5 – vs. 23-24 – What is the point of making such a big deal of material goods when there are lives at stake? That’s why I have short shrift with projects that have more to do with brick and mortar than the souls and lives of people in need. So here flipside living is sure giving God materially what is His but matching that with the desire to give God of myself in being passionate about the things He’s passionate for – the weak, poor, disenfranchised, alienated, foreign. Flipside living is standing up for justice and mercy wherever possible and doing is wholeheartedly.
Flipside 6 – vs. 25-26 – This kind of living is not as much fussed about the external lifestyle as the state of the inner man and as that is something for which we can advise and encourage but for which the individual takes responsibility it removes any room for judgemental spirit. It echoes the need Jesus points out again back in the Sermon to recognise that those who see God are pure in heart. John in His first epistle in scripture would put it that those who realise they are the beloved purify themselves even as He is pure – and that’s an inside job.
Flipside 7 – vs. 27-28 – Building on the theme of being right within again we are taken back to the Sermon where Jesus informs us that in that day many will come to Him in that day saying Lord, Lord were we not the bomb?! Did you see that crusade I ran and those who flocked to give their lives to you? Did you get that concert and those DVD’s and albums that people loved? Did you see me in that act of kindness and essential social action in meeting the needs of others. Did you see it, Jesus? Did you see it, Lord? But because of the corrupt state of my heart all Jesus see is a worker of iniquity. Oh let my outer life reflect the state of my heart and not a convenient front. And let my heart be pure in its desire for God and love for others.
Flipside 8 – vs. 29-31 – I cannot afford to consider myself to be in a position where I say well if I was in their position I would do better than they did, especially when there maybe things God could expose about me that shows me to have just as corrupt a heart. The heartbeat for the things of God moves on from the holier-than-thou attitude to being taken jup completely with doing and being everything pleasing to God.
The words of Jesus are stinging. I’m not sure if He’s had a discourse that is so brutal and heavy in impact in such a way. Yet it’s not for the sake of just letting off steam – there are Kingdom issues at stake for His audience – disciples and followers to consider carefully and not fall into the same trap.
Oh to live on the flipside of the woes.
For His Name’s Sake