Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 23: 1-12: Love Continues.

Exciting scenes from the last episode: 

The Pharisees asked Jesus about the commandments, and he gave the A-1 answer.  The greatest, in order, are to love God and love neighbor.  But then, before they could go off on a pointless tangent or take him rambling down a rabbit trail with no end in sight (like some preachers I know), Jesus asks them a question in return. 

It concerned the Messiah as the son of David, and he points out that even King David called the Messiah “Lord.”  That certainly implied that Love God and Love neighbor ought to include Love the Messiah.  Now, Jesus did not actually say “I am he,” but the Pharisees heard the rumors.  Plenty of people by then certainly thought Jesus was “he.”  You can be sure the Pharisees took the warning.  Jesus might have said, if there is the slightest chance in your mind that I might be the Messiah, you better rethink this game you are playing of trying to trick me with your dumb questions.  You may be digging a big hole for yourselves.

And now, to continue:

While the Pharisees no doubt stood there in abject uncertainty, Jesus straightened out a few things for the crowd.  Most commentators see this as don’t be a hypocrite… wrong.

Jesus did not say the Pharisees weren’t doing the right things.  He did not say they were hypocrites, exactly.  He implied they were doing the right things but for all the wrong reasons.  He said they did not practice what they preached.  But what did they preach?  Love God and Love neighbor.  He said they were doing everything not for love, but for the honor, power, prestige, status.  They should have been doing it out of love.

He also said they made it all sound like a big burden, and when the Pharisees did wonderful things it was like rubbing it in the noses of the common people who could not afford to give that level of time, money or energy to the Lord.

Jesus was saying it should not be a burden.  Do what the Pharisees say.  Love God and Love neighbor.  Just do what you can out of love, not like the Pharisees who do it for honor and self-aggrandizement.

You see, love is a feeling.  It engenders all sorts of wonderful things like commitment and loyalty, compassion and caring, and that should be the center of a relationship with God and neighbor (and that is all neighbors, by the way.  Even the rich ones, not just the poor and disenfranchised). 

When we express our love for God, we do as they did back then – even as the Pharisees did.  We worship, give money, reach out to the poor, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, do justice, love mercy, walk humbly before our God, and on and on.  Jesus is simply reminding us here that it needs to be totally motivated and driven by love.  Nothing else will do, and doing good for any other reason is… Pharisaical. 

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