by Mary Kate Hipp
We find the reading for today amid a series of Jesus' parables and other teachings to a large crowd. In fact, most of the surrounding teachings are difficult to hear—Jesus is pronouncing judgment and heeding warnings to those who do not follow Him. Matthew begins his account of the Gospel with the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus blesses many types of people, they have understood this as a common Old Testament type of prayer. What we read today is also a (somewhat) common Old Testament type of prayer: woes or curses.
Jesus is proclaiming these woes over those who are most familiar with this type of prayer, the ones who are presumably most righteous, who know the Law forward and backward—the Pharisees. The ones who enforce the religious law are being rebuked. How does this make sense? The Pharisees, though thoroughly educated in Torah, were highly hypocritical. I believe Jesus is not trying to turn these religious folk away from Him nor do I think Jesus wants to say "you cannot follow me because you are a hypocrite." Rather, perhaps Jesus is rebuking these pious people hoping they see their sin and turn to Him. Though they mean well, God searched their hearts and knows them (Psalm 139:23), and is inviting them to turn to Him in full submission.
The prophet Joel pleas to the people of Israel to repent saying "tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love and He relents from sending disaster. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him..." (CSB). Repent and be blessed! It is no secret Christians are often viewed as hypocrites just as the Pharisees were. So, in this final week of the Lenten season, may God soften our hearts and reveal to us ways in which we must renounce our hypocritical ways and turn to Him. Repent and be blessed!
Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe. Search our hearts, know us, and reveal to us how we have turned from You. May we come running back to You in full submission. Our hearts long for You, oh God. May we tear our hearts in repentance. Be gracious and compassionate to us. We love you, God. Amen.