“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.” (Matt 23:23). As a ‘last will and testament’ of Jesus, Matthew’s final use of Faith is a double tradition known as ‘The Woes Against The Pharisees’ (Matt 23:1-36) and (Luke 11:39ff)
I am hard pressed to enter this text first with the ‘justice theme’. Not simply because it is first in the order of the ‘weightier matters of the law’, but more so because it has resounded in my consciousness so lately as I experience the Justice system in our times— ‘no justice, no peace!’
Judaism, the religion of Jesus, is a legalistic based faith. Clearly, a very definitive ‘new beginning’ of this major world religion can be seen in the personhood of Moses, ‘The Law Giver’. This people’s ‘covenant’ with God gave them a theocratic government where God is ruler, judge and king— even through the coming of Jesus whose life and times were in an Empire in which ‘freedom of religion’ was decreed exclusively to them.
It must be borne in mind that the Prophet of Israel, ‘the Nabi’, is ‘the mouthpiece’ of God. It is during the most difficult years in the national life of the Old Testament faith— through the wars and two exiles, that God speaks most urgently and consistently through the prophets concerning justice. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites… neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice…”
It is no small thing that some thought Jesus to be one of the prophets. Just as all the prophets before him spoke of there being no justice in the land— “there is lying, stealing and killing”— Jesus, too, raises a prophetic voice.
All uses of ‘krisis/judgement’ in Matthew are in the mouth of Jesus. The tense here is ‘krisin’, rendered justice and/or judgement by most all translations. This tense is used by Jesus only in relationship to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his faith. First, in Matt 12:14ff, he becomes aware that the Pharisees have held counsel to destroy him and in withdrawing from them he speaks of fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy— ‘The Servant of God’, beloved, sent to bring justice/judgement to victory. Now, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites… neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice…”
The Church is in mourning this week over the passing of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, Past President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In June of 1978 I received a call into Ministry that was so swift and complete, I entered The Interdenominational Theological Center – Gammon Seminary in Atlanta; began my Master of Divinity studies; was extended the Right hand of fellowship from Dr. Lowery and Baptized into Central United Methodist Church. For the next three years my M. Div. Program was nurtured by the Central Church Congregation as I sat in the Pulpit next to Doc. as a student in Ministry. Overwhelmed right now at the reflections of this life; only to add that during this time, I experienced the Vision of First Lady Evelyn Gibson Lowery’s SCLC/W.O.M.E.N as a founding member. With deepest humility I honor the Rest of This Man and Woman of God who ran this race as ‘Giants For Justice’.
Jesus has come down to the end of his life, in the throes of ‘The Passion’— and equally as disturbed about the state of the people of God as were all the prophets before him. As a ‘last will and testament’ he speaks to the religious leaders: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice…”
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