Within the Gospel of Matthew are places where Jesus addresses woes to those who do not follow God’s will. They are especially concentrated in Matthew 23 where Jesus is condemning the attitudes and practices of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus speaks against these leaders for closing the kingdom in people’s faces, for corrupting proselytes (converts to Judaism in the early Christian centuries), for casuistry (interpretation of the Law) that attempts to get around God’s will, for neglecting the weighty provisions of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness, for their greed and self-indulgence, for their hypocritical appearance of righteousness but internal lawlessness and hypocrisy, and for the outward expression of concern for the brave witness of prophets and wise men but in deed their cruel treatment of them.
In contrast, disciples of the kingdom of heaven follow the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount from their very heart to outward behavior. They are the poor in spirit, those who mourn as they wait for the kingdom, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of the kingdom. Disciples are the light of Christ to the world. They shun anger and lust. They do not desire to retaliate for wrongs. They love their enemies. They pray, give to the needy, and fast without public fanfare. They do not judge without inspecting their own sins with wide-eyed awareness. They hold the marriage bond sacred. The world does not distract them or overwhelm them as the seed sown among thorns (Matthew 13). They do not relent in their discipleship like the rocky soil (Matthew 13). Disciples forgive others time and time again (Mathew 18). They feed those in need, give water to the thirsty, extend hospitality to the stranger, provide clothing to the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 24)
For us whose sins are forgiven time and time again by the Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, so that we may be empowered to be disciples, woes of future judgment are turned to blessings of future salvation. God supplies forgiveness as only He can do through the cross of Christ, the giving of His body and the shedding of His blood; we respond with faithfulness to the new covenant God has provided. Those who tempt the little ones, the brothers and sisters in Christ, are condemned so that it would be better if they had a millstone placed on their necks and that they be thrown into the sea (Matthew 18).
Woes and blessings. The life of the discipleship is one of blessing. We can remember this fact especially when opposition to Christ seems so very strong. Christ with His kingdom awaits the faithful. He awaits you and me.
Michael G. Tavella
December 30, 2019