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Matthew 23:16-23: Blind Guides

Posted by adventbiblestudy on July 13, 2012


Matthew 23:16-23 “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ (17) Blind fools! Which is more important–the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? (18) And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. (19) How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? (20) When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. (21) And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. (22) And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne. (23) “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law–justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

 

As Jesus continued teaching in the temple court, His heart sank as He pointed out the path followed by the religious leaders standing their ground on the opposite side. Did they understand any of the doctrines they held in such high regard? Jesus prayed for a moment. If only they could see the preparations His Father put into the harvest of the world.

 

Earlier Jesus shared three parables, each describing how people ignored gifts they were offered, refusing to accept them. Two sons saw very little value in the vineyard their father had nurtured for years, even though they both were in line to inherit a share. Tenants given a vineyard, along with everything to fulfill their needs, plotted to gain total ownership and control. Guests considered everyday life too important to share in the joy their king had for the marriage of his son. In each case worldly influences around them filled their hearts with greed. The priests and Pharisees knew the spiritual meaning of the parables pointed to them as greedy sons, tenants, and ungrateful guests. Zeal hid their guilt. They wore their pride like the colorful robes that covered them. Their interpretation of the laws and doctrines were as wide spread and boastful as the borders and hems adorning their garments.

 

After praying Jesus regained His thoughts. “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important–the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?” Everyone listening to Jesus knew He was referring to their love of money. They knew the garments they wore were designed to bring attention to themselves. This was an example of an unnecessary expense they were proud to announce. The religious leaders promised special gifts and blessings to those paying tithe in gold. Gold identified the social circle the priests associated with. The poor people seated in front of Jesus could never hope to pay tithe in gold.

 

Jesus continued placing a special emphasis on the temple. “And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” The poor people in front of Jesus lived in a world where status ruled, and they were on the bottom. Everything about their lives separated them from the elite, clothing, gifts, and sacrifices. The priests used every opportunity to remind them they were in a different class, and their poverty created a gulf between them and God’s love and concern. While the elite were praised for their sacrifices of bulls, rams, and sheep, the poor were considered less than acceptable for their meager offerings.

 

Not a single head turned to look at the priests. Every eye remained focused on Jesus as He said, “When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.” The look in Jesus’ eyes told them they were all equal in God’s eyes. They knew Jesus was teaching them, their gift was acceptable. The God they served would never erect an alter meant to divide people. Each sacrifice offered from the heart was acceptable in God’s eyes. They had been waiting all their lives for someone to tell them, God sees you, hears you, and is concerned about you. Many of them had come to the temple to draw closer to the God they felt separated from. Jesus’ words told them, God was there, ready to listen to them, no matter what their social status, or gift was.

 

Jesus raised His voice as He called out to the religious leaders across the courtyard. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law–justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”

 

The people knew, as well as the priests, how they made the biggest spectacle of tithing the little things. The people often thought, the priests tithe in the little things God gives them, but consider themselves exempt from meeting their obligations. The disciples knew what Jesus meant by, “more important matters.” They knew Jesus was referring to the love, respect, and personal attention He was constantly teaching them by example. John could see, Jesus’ plea was not anything new, but is echoed through out the entire book of Jeremiah. “I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the LORD have spoken!” Jeremiah 23:3-4.

 

 

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