Matthew 23:23-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” Matthew 23:23-26

This past weekend I read an article that the city government in Jerusalem locked the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the center of the Old City over a dispute concerning municipal taxes. It seems that the Christian groups – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian – who own that church building also own a lot of land in and around Jerusalem. They have been leasing that land for commercial purposes and then refusing to pay municipal taxes on their profits. Ouch.

The article stressed that the church itself is not subject to property taxes. It also suggested that oppression of the Christian faith in view of the recent decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem might also be in play. I’m thinking it is all about money…on all sides.

We have three major ministries in our congregation. Two of them – our schools and our Faith House ministry which provides housing for those who come to Houston for medical treatment – do just fine financially. The third, our congregational ministry, seems perpetually just a little bit behind on everything. Why? Because we charge people for rent and for tuition. We have set prices and people pay them. That isn’t how it works with the main ministry of the congregation. No one is coerced to giving anything to the ministry of the congregation itself. They just give what they give. There, we live by faith.

I notice in today’s text that Jesus doesn’t say anything against the practice of tithing, of financially supporting ministry. What he criticizes is the over-focus on finances and the under-focus on justice. That is a problem. In the very baldest of terms, it makes me wonder how many times I, and everyone else who does what I do, have held back from speaking directly and lovingly on an issue of justice for fear that the people who pay my salary may quit coming and quit giving?

This temptation has always been there. The writer of James names it: My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

I don’t want to do that. I hate the very idea. It runs counter to everything I believe and all that I hope for in congregational life. It is good to be reminded of the temptation and to resist it with every fiber of my being.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we’ve all heard it before, “Do as I say and not as I do” – even though we know that actions speak louder than words. Challenge us to honesty and integrity in all things, especially when we’re tempted to say the right things but do the wrong things, or when we’re tempted to treat people less than honestly and lovingly. Forgive us. Cleanse us and make us whole. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 23:23-26”

  1. georgene Thompson Says:

    In my church the homilies are all about dissecting scripture. Right down to explaining the ways words differ in meaning in ancient languages. No talk about what’s really going on in the world probably, as you say, for fear of offending big donors. That’s why your straight talk means so much to me.

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    We would do well to say this scripture every day: Psalm 51: 10-12

    Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
    Cast me not away from your presence,
    nor take your Holy Spirit from me.
    But restore unto me the joy of your salvation,
    and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

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