Matthew 23:16-22 – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.” NIV
Jesus has just finished the give and take between the Jewish religious leaders and himself in the Temple courts. In Matthew 23, Jesus goes on to tell his audience that “the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat.” I take this to mean that God has given them the responsibility and authority to teach people the Law. Jesus says in that case people need to obey what they say about the Law. However, He has some more commentary on their actions: “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matt. 23:3-4 – NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matt 23:13 – NIV)
The question that He asks His listeners has to do with the logic of their arguments that take the focus off of God and His Kingdom, and place it on the rules that have been made by humans. He call them “blind guides” because they are supposed to be guiding people to God; but their biases, prejudices, and desire for personal power and recognition are blinding them from their purpose. He uses an example of oath taking which should have been a simple “yes” or “no,” but had become like a child’s game of crossing one’s fingers. They had forgotten who was important and who had placed them in Moses’ seat of religious authority and responsibility.
When it comes to my responsibility before God to share His love with others, do I play games? Do I set conditions that God does not set? Do my actions somehow keep people from seeing the awesomeness of God? How can I get out of God’s way and yet join Him in His mission on this earth?