We've spent some time exploring the ministry and teachings of Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew, because it's not his death alone that mattered but his life that mattered and matters still. But after today and for the rest of our season of Lent, we'll slow way down and read these last few chapters of Matthew bit by bit - the story of his crucifixion and resurrection - for it was through this death and life again that Christ breathed new breath into our dead mens' bones, leaving our white-washed tombs echoing empty.
So now we enter the crux of the story.
The Jewish Religious Elites have been watching Jesus, watching from a distance for some time now. They’ve seen the crowds flock to see him heal and preach, heard incendiary words flung in their direction, witnessed him heal on the Sabbath, claim he can forgive their sins, talk about himself as if he’s God Almighty. Talk about a heretic.
Thing is...he’s been watching them too. He’s seen inside their hollow hearts - the acting, the greed, the self-indulgence. He’s heard their ostentatious prayers on the street corners to no one in particular, experienced their mixed motives and their grandiose claims about their own importance. Talk about blind guides.
The real trouble for the Religious Elites is that Jesus has climbed over their walls and invaded their kingdom. He’s challenged them to think differently, to live differently, to stop all their ladder climbing and power grabbing and clambering for position. With every healing, with every infuriating "you’ve heard it said, but I tell you,” with every pompous claim that he’s come to serve and save the sick, the Religious Elites can feel their tawdry temple starting to crack. And they will have none of it.
You remember the Law of Limited Good? Tangibles you could buy in the marketplace - spices like mint, dill, and cumin - all could be weighed and measured and bought and sold. But intangibles were in limited supply too. Things that couldn’t be seen could still become a commodity to be earned or won or traded or lost - things like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. One man’s gain in mint or mercy was another man’s loss of it. And as Jesus gained recognition and acclaim, the chief priests and elders believed they were losing theirs.
So. They did what most of us might when we’re afraid.
They tried to take control back.
They decided to plot him out, to blot him out, to arrest him and shut him up for good. They knew finding something with which to charge Jesus would be a little like straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel, but it was worth a shot.
Two thousand years later and we haven’t come a long way, because like the Religious Elites, at the heart of our sin is a desire to be in control. Many of us want to follow God at the outset, but it doesn’t take too long before Jesus starts to step on our toes or worse - on our paradigms. If we’re paying attention, he’s challenging us to think differently, to live differently, to hold highest the law of love, to serve our neighbor as we serve ourselves, and when we feel him invading our hearts and seeing what’s really in there, sometimes it’s easier to shut him up than to let him gather us to him like a hen gathers chicks under her wings.
So often, we flip the tables on Jesus and try to take control back. We protect those things he challenges us to give up, things like perfectionism or materialism or comparison, things like our time, our money, or our masks, our grudges, our entitlement, or our greed.
We protect our lives just as they are as if they’re sacred temples. But if we’ll let him, Jesus has promised to tear down our temples and give us a better one; he’s promised us himself.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
What’s making you uncomfortable about Jesus today? Where does he threaten your security? Has he invaded any part of your sacred temple or challenged you to think differently? What are you tempted to control?
Take Lord, receive my memory, my understanding, my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, you have give it to me, and I give it all back to you, and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough. I ask for nothing more. Amen.
Go to www.janespice.com/recipes/goat-cheese-spread- with-mint-and-cumin-seeds. Prepare this dish tonight. Eat and enjoy. Give thanks to God for this food. As you eat and offer thanksgiving for His bountiful goodness, remember that we must not neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness (Mt. 23:23). When you clean your cups and dishes after the meal, remember that first Christ cleans the inside of the cup and dish and then the outside also will be clean (Mt. 23:26).
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Mt. 6:5.
- Mt. 9:9-13.
- Jn. 2:19.
- Ignatius of Loyola, “The Suscipe”