We find so many “Woe to you“ exclamations, spoken by Jesus, especially in Mt 23, addressed towards the Pharisees.
Do you feel threatened by these “Woe to you“ words from Jesus?
Indeed, I do.
Easily I hear these words as condemning me, threatening me, announcing pain and punishment for me.
But who is it that speaks?
It is Jesus, the one who loved us, and who also loved the Pharisees. He did not condemn anyone, neither me, the sinner, nor the Pharisees, sinners like me.
So how does it sound when Jesus speaks these harsh words? Is it a cold, angry, violent voice, announcing the bitter judgment for the addressees?
It is definitely a serious voice, speaking the truth. And this truth sounds painful for the ones whose falsity is revealed through it.
But what was the heart and the goal of Jesus? Why did he speak out the painful truth?
Not to punish and destroy us, but to save us. He revealed our lies and falsities, not to condemn us, but to lead us to the truth. The truth is that God loves us and wants us to enjoy the abundance of life in his love. Our sin, our falsity, is keeping us from entering this great world of our Father’s love. We keep ourselves outside of this world if we hold on to our sinful ways. And this world outside is the dark, cold and painful.
Rather than condemning, the voice of Jesus speaking “Woe to you“ is full of compassion, full of pain, suffering with us seeing that we are going towards the world of pain, instead of following his voice to the world of love.
When I can hear this underlying tone of deep love and compassion in Jesus’ voice – how different does it sound when he speaks “Woe to you“. Rather than feeling threatened, condemned, criticized, I become alert and thankful – thank you, Jesus, that you came to prevent me from running toward and ending up in the world of pain! Thank you, that you came to warn me, to reveal the falsities of my life, and not only that, you also opened the way for me to change my direction and go towards the other world, to enter the world of deep love and joy with our Father.
Jesus does not condemn the Pharisees, as he doesn’t condemn me – he says: such will be the result of your ways of lies and hypocrisy, it will be unbearable pain. So please, listen to my warning, take my hand and I will guide you to the beautiful world that you are actually longing for deep within your hearts. You are longing for the truth and love of your Father – I can show you the way, I have prepared it for you. So listen to my voice and follow me.
He does not leave the Pharisees alone with the harsh revelation of their falsity, he does not leave us alone just depicting our sin. He shows and guides us the way to change our direction and our destiny.
In Mt 23:25-26 he points out how we betray ourselves and others, and how we can turn around and follow the good way of the truth:
Do not hold on to your hypocrite life, pretending to be a good person while your heart is full of anger, falsity, greed… Cleanse yourself from the inside, then your outward life will become clean and beautiful as well.
How can we cleanse our hearts? By staying close to Jesus, listening to his word, following his guidance, allowing the Holy Spirit to cleanse and sanctify us day by day.
Being thankful for hearing the voice of Jesus, even though it might be painful when he is speaking most seriously “Woe to you“ – being thankful helps me to open my heart for him and to allow his voice to touch my heart, and to turn around and follow him – to the beautiful world of our Father.
Accepting Jesus in my heart, my life is not driven any longer by my useless struggle to present a certain image to other people, or before myself. My new life with Jesus is driven by deep thankfulness to the Lord, and by the hope for the kingdom of God that I am running towards now.
Wouldn’t God be pleased with such life, wouldn’t other people, and above all myself, be deeply happy to walk this way with the Lord?