“If we had lived in the days of our ancestors”

Jesus once again rails against the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23: 27-32.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You build the tombs of the prophets
and adorn the memorials of the righteous,
and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors,
we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’
Thus you bear witness against yourselves
that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets;
now fill up what your ancestors measured out!”

Once again, we are presented with the picture of the self-righteous, who presents himself as the model of upright living but really fails to live up to the teachings of the Gospel. They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk, in modern usage.

But in this short line of scripture, it seems that Jesus has brought up another question: You say you are devoted and close to the prophets, that in the days of the prophets you would never have shed their blood. But is that really true?

Is that not also true of today’s version of the scribes and Pharisees? Had today’s so called “Christians” been alive in Jesus’ day, would they even have recognized Jesus as the Son of God — or would they have nailed Him to the cross and crucified Him, just as their ancestors did?

It’s easy to recognize Jesus in a story, “believers” wanting to be seen as one of the enlightened righteous. But in real life, seeing this revolutionary figure, this man who claims to be the Christ, the Messiah, who says he heals the sick and raises the dead, who claims to speak for God, and dines with sinners and travels with tax collectors and feeds the poor — this brown-skinned supposed miracle worker who gathers about him the “lazy and worthless,” the least and weakest of society: Would they really accept Him as the Son of God? Or would they side with their “kings” and their rich faith leaders and politicians and put Him to death?

Looking at it another way, if Jesus had been born today instead of two thousand years ago, would those who today call themselves “Christians” recognize Jesus as the Messiah? Or would they deride him as a socialist hippy who should take a bath and get a job, ignoring his directive to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give shelter to the homeless, and care for the least of our brothers and sisters?

In the Gospel reading that last line is challenging the scribes and Pharisees to do it again. But in this day and age, it goads us to be realistic. Be a true believer and live truly according to the Gospel, and stop putting on hypocritical airs.


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