[Jesus said,] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?”
“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.” (Matthew 23:27-33, 37-38)
It always makes me pause when I read a passage like this. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the well-educated religious leaders of his day. He called them hypocrites, snakes, “descendants of those who murdered the prophets,” and “a brood of vipers.” Phew!
I keep a long list of quotes on my phone. Many of them are from the Bible. I read this one again on Tuesday morning:
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Does the Lord hate anything? Hate is a strong word to associate with the Lord, I realize.
According to the author of Proverbs, the Lord hates those who look down on others scornfully. The Lord hates liars, those who shed innocent blood, those whose hearts plan evil deeds, those who do evil, and those who sow discord among others. Perhaps we can summarize all these by saying the Lord hates those who do evil, those who perpetrate injustices on others, and those who look down their noses at others.
On July 4, a number of mass killings happened - AGAIN! - in our nation. On Tuesday morning, when I read an updated story on the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, it was the 309th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2022. When I did some further research on Tuesday afternoon, that number was already up to 319! (gunviolencearchive.org) If you are incensed by all of these mass shootings… this shedding of innocent blood - if you hate those who do these awful, evil things, you would be siding with the Lord. And then, very quickly - hopefully - we would hear our Lord saying to us, once again, “But I say to you, Love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:44)
We know that the core of Jesus’ message - and John the Baptist’s message, too - was that God is a loving, forgiving, merciful God, and that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Have you every been haughty? Have you ever lied? I can tell you that I have done such things. Thankfully… gratefully… we hear in the Gospel… we hear from Jesus himself that none of us is out of the reach of God’s loving, embracing arms.
At the end of the passage cited above, Jesus laments over Jerusalem - “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Matthew 23:37a) As he cries out over Jerusalem, he is very aware that he is about to be one of those prophets who is killed.
Jesus then offers a very feminine, nurturing image for God. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:27b) If you have ever seen a mother hen lift up her wings - at the first hint of any approaching danger - and witnessed all her little chicks disappear under those wings, then you know what an image of protection, safety, and comfort this is!
But, Jesus says, the people of Jerusalem - and especially the leaders of Jerusalem - were not willing… did not welcome the love, protection, and provision of God. They instead chose to be a law unto themselves. They knew better than Jesus. They knew better than God. Perhaps this is the ultimate example of being haughty - to look down on God… to be scornful of God.
Are we willing? Are we willing today to run to God, and to be engulfed and embraced by her loving arms - and to be forgiven, comforted, protected, and guided, and then sent out to do the very opposite of the things that God hates?
Are we willing to love our enemies and show no partiality in our dealings with our fellow human beings?
Are we willing to be compassionate toward the poor, the lonely, the sick, and the hurting?
Are we willing to ask forgiveness from those we have harmed, and to forgive those who have harmed us?
Are we willing to devise schemes of love?
Are we willing to run to do good, working for justice and peace for all people?
Are we willing to be sowers of appreciation, encouragement, welcome, and support?
Finally, or perhaps first of all - are we willing to be gathered in by the Lord?