Meditating on the words and acts of Jesus confronting the religious frauds!
On Tuesday morning, Jesus travels back to the Temple after another evening at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home
A busy day of teaching lays ahead!
On the way to the Temple, Jesus and the disciples pass the withered fig tree from the day before.
Jesus cursed the fig tree yesterday because it had all the outward signs of life and growth and health. Yet, upon further inspection, this fig tree didn’t produce one piece of fruit. For having all the outward looks of health but unable to produce fruit (i.e. Hypocrisy), the Fig Tree is judged. The Fig Tree represents Israel. Given the Covenants, the Temple in her midst, The Law, she had everything she needed for an intimate relationship with God. And, boy, did she ever put on a show of religious activity. Yet, just like the money changers in the temple, a deeper inspection finds her morally and spiritually rotten. Jesus demonstrates that God does not bless hypocrisy.
And...speaking of hypocrisy...here comes the Pharisees in their long robes, scrolls, and religiously astute (or not astute) questions to trip Jesus up and prove him a fraud (Matthew 21:23-22:46). In this attempt to discredit the claims of Jesus -- that He is God and here to save souls -- these rotten religious relics challenge Jesus’ authority. Jesus answers with three timely parables (parable of the two sons, the tenants, and the wedding feast). They try tripping him up on taxes, the resurrection, the greatest commandments, find Him equal to the task.
After this exchange, Jesus pronounces a sorrow-filled, final judgment on these religious elites for their perverse hypocrisy and other sins:
Woe 1: You have shut the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven in the people’s faces. By your hypocrisy and refusal of the Messiah, you are literally keeping people blind to the truth of salvation.
Woe 2: You make up meaningless rules and your followers are blind to true righteousness. Therefore, you are creating followers destined for Hell.
Woe 3: You set yourselves up as guides for the spiritually blind. Yet, you are blind to the truth and blind to your own sin. Your spiritual blindness keeps you from seeing the True Messiah standing right here in your midst. You prefer to squabble and squawk over ridiculous genealogies, conspiracy theories, trying to find loopholes in the law to justify your lifestyles.
Woe 4: Your priorities are all screwed up. You “strain a gnat but swallow a camel.” You are ultracareful in your tithing (10% of everything) but you ignore injustice, mercy, faith.
Woe 5: Your lives are like cups that are clean on the outside but dirty on the inside. Gross!
Woe 6: You’re spiritual life is like a whitewashed tomb -- you look clean and neat on the outside but your spiritual heart is dead within you.
Woe 7: You think you are better than your fathers who rejected and killed the prophets. Yet, in the days to come you will reenact centuries of plotting against the prophets when you, like your fathers, kill me.
Saddened by the spiritual hypocrisy and blindness of the Pharisees, Jesus moves on to give us a taste of what is to come via the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:1-25:46). Although Israel (The Withered Fig Tree) and The Pharisees have rejected the Messiah, He is not rejecting her. God has a future plan for Israel.
How awesome??? In the week leading up to His death, Jesus heightens His efforts to get the religious person’s attention. “STOP trusting in works, in your thoughts, in your heritage, in your external acts of righteousness!!! Rather, turn to me, be freed from your sin, and free to live in intimacy with The Father.”