Matthew 23:34-39

“Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.”

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:34-39

I have agonized for days over this passage. This chapter, this passage, along with verses like Matthew 27:25, “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” led to centuries of discrimination, and even attempted elimination, of Jews. This is a classic example of exactly what Jesus has been railing against this entire chapter. He has caught us in the act of twisting the faith to our own purposes. The whole chapter is an indictment of the danger of religion as a system intended to control or influence the behaviors of its adherents. How can this be?

Matthew tells us that Jesus’ words are directed to the “scribes and Pharisees”, in full view of Jesus’ disciples and the gathered crowd. As I’ve written before, nothing would be easier (or more self-serving) than to concretize his words to that long ago moment in history and those larger than life bad guy targets. “Blame it all on the Jews!” starts right here. That gut wrenching song has been playing for centuries.

Once again, if we hear this chapter directed to us it can be for us a cleansing fire. But if we read it as directed to others, it becomes the fires of the Holocaust. I am a Lutheran pastor. I stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther and those that followed. But as much as I appreciate Luther’s courage and insights into the Christian faith, I am appalled at his blindness when he directed his vitriol toward Judaism. Thankfully, my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, finally offered an apology to the Jewish community for the damage done by Luther’s writings. That it took until 1994 to do it is shocking. But true. And we should never forget it.

I don’t know how many Lutheran congregations in the world sit right next to a Jewish synagogue but Faith Lutheran Church does. We share our parking lot with Congregation Brith Shalom. And I am struck, every weekend, with the stark reality that they need to have armed guards present every time they gather for worship because of the on-going threats and dangers of anti-Semitism. Such threats are birthed, and nurtured, by interpretations of verses from the Bible, like this chapter from Matthew, that blame, shame, and scapegoat.

But there is another way of hearing these words. We can let them point at us.

This way begins with noticing how Jesus describes God – God the mother hen who wants nothing more than to gather her chicks under the warmth of her wings. But the unwilling chicks prefer the cold. They want it their way. So they brazenly defy God and then twist clear godly principles to their own purposes. They co-opt religion to justify themselves.

We do well to remember that, whenever we say that “Jesus took our sins to the cross,” these are exactly the sort of sins we are talking about. Personal, systemic, institutional, cultural sins. And now we will follow Jesus to the cross, knowing full well that the wages of this sin is death.

Let us pray: Forgive us, Lord, for using and abusing religion to use and abuse the very people you love. Hold the mirror of your grace before us and help us more clearly see the log in our eyes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 23:34-39”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    I agree with your point of view! The Jews are still God’s chosen people.

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