I've been awfully quiet for the past little bit, since offering some information on the authors of the 4 Gospels. This part of the Bible reading has been particularly humbling to me and I've shied away from sharing my reflections with you. In addition to this reading, my Wednesday Bible study group is studying Matthew this year in depth, and thus Matthew will be the main focus of this installment. As one of the books we are currently reading it's helping me with any of my naive interpretations of the other 3. Be that as it may, here goes nothing.
What I'm finding personally difficult is the chastising I'm feeling along with the overwhelming love of God. Reading Jesus's teachings to the crowds and the disciples is both loving and chastising to me at the same time. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) includes both of these traits, at least for me. Jesus starts with the beatitudes -- blessed are the meek, blessed are the humble, etc. While I am no where near able to claim that I am overwhelmingly meek or humble, at times I do see myself this way. Further on in this sermon Jesus starts talking about murder. I've never physically murdered a person, nor have I truly felt that I even wanted to murder anyone. But I'm certainly convicted of being anger and holding grudges which Jesus equates with murder. He continues to talk about adultery and divorce. Guilty. In Matthew 6 Jesus continues with boasting of our righteousness. Making a big deal out of fasting or tithing or giving thanks before a meal when I can simply accept that God knows my actions and I should not care what the world sees/thinks of me. Jesus continues with talking about our earthly "treasures" and their worthlessness in terms of eternity. I admit that I like nice "stuff" -- I want to have it, I'll save money to buy it, or I'll love getting it as a gift. And I also love having things that were my grandparents' at one time -- again, it's just "stuff" but I cherish it. We live in an area where hurricane evacuations are relatively common -- what do you take with you? When Katrina hit, I brought my jewelry box. More "stuff". In Matthew 7 Jesus continues to talk about judging others. I know I do this and I believe it's endemic in our culture -- we compare ourselves to others -- is his salary higher than mine? is her dress nicer? are their children better/worse behaved than mine. We so want to "fit in" when our model, Jesus, was one who so drastically "stuck out" during his time of ministry. Jumping ahead to Matthew 23 Jesus goes full out on the Pharisees. He talks about hypocrisy -- I know that I am often guilty of this -- I teach my children what they should do but often don't follow that advice myself. I succumb to gossip even though in my mind I don't like it. I rationalize these behaviors -- I'm only spreading "good" news, she wanted me to share her story, whatever. So I am justly convicted of my sin.
But I am so thankful for forgiveness! It is not easy to follow Jesus, despite the "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" Jesus teaches in 11:30. And he challenges the Pharisess (and my!) self-righteousness. One of the homework assignments for our Saturday Ladies' Bible Study asked a question that brought this home to me. This study is on Daniel, but I find that the lesson here was similar to that of the ones in Matthew (and the other gospels). The question was around the topic of have you (the student) ever found yourself turning something "good" into something "bad" -- such as how the Pharisees would fast (a "good" thing) but "parade" around the villages as though they were suffering so woefully, anticipating attention from others (the "bad" part). Like the Pharisees, I become "self-righteous" in my own behavior -- in particular, for me, it's self-discipline. Our "world" sees this as a good trait and, as with many things, I take it to the extreme. Just ask my family! And I often wonder why others don't just live this way -- for me it's easier and simpler this way and gives me comfort. Yet I know I become prideful and selfish within this trait. Sigh. It truly is a lifelong journey, one day at a time, no? Let's be thankful that we are able to come to God, repent of our sin, and be forgiven.