For Jesus to denounce “woe”—both a warning and a declaration of impending judgment—is a serious enough proposition that it would make the bravest quake for fear and only a fool ignore. What was the the result of these woes? Did they repent? Some perhaps did. Many did not. Let us consider carefully the kind of religiosity that Jesus clearly denounces as not only wrongheaded, but woeful.
First of all, they shut the kingdom in other people’s faces and won’t enter themselves (23:13). They do not follow Jesus, and they make it very difficult for other people to do so. How many religions are there that not only oppose Jesus, but do everything they can to stop other people from following Jesus!
Then, their proselytism is unbounded: they travel over land and sea just to win a single convert (23:15). Proselytism is the zeal to enforce your religious opinions on others; it is not only wasted energy, but its end result is to make those who receive the proselytism in an even worse condition than the one doing the proselytizing. (Evangelism, by contrast, is the sharing of the good news of Jesus with those who have not yet received that good news—it is free, gracious, and kind; not forceful, negative, and dominating.)
Then, their religiosity is “blind” and they are “blind guides” (23:16-22)—their particular blindness used as an illustration here is the inability to discern that minute differences of what you are swearing by are of any great significance. Human religiosity loves to make complicated rules to keep other people in bondage to your inventions—like children who invent extremely complicated rules for their own games that are changed to suit their own interests!
Finally, they lose all perspective (23:23-24). They are proud of their particular attention to tithing, but are not giving their attention to the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In Jesus’ memorable phrase, they strain at a gnat but swallow a camel.
The solution? Follow Jesus not these blind guides!
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