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Tragedies and the greatest tragedy

“(1) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, (2) play actors! For (3) you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have avoided the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, (4) straining out a sediment from wine and then swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, (5) play actors! For (6) you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of strong acquisitiveness and self-seeking. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, play actors! For (7) you are like whitewashed graves, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of play acting and lawlessness.” Matthew 23: 23-28
The Manchester attack was a tragedy. So were the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks. So too was the Finsbury Park Mosque attack. All of them – along with Grenfell Tower – tragedies.

What do you want, what do you wish for most, when you see such tragedies? When you are warned about a tragedy to come, are your wishes the same? Or different?

On BBC Any Questions recently an intriguing question was avoided by the entire panel. It went something like this. Will humans always do more after a disaster than we’re prepared to do when we’re warned before a disaster?

Come with me again to AD 30 Jerusalem and the final few days before Jesus was killed by crucifixion – and rose again. See bold above. Matthew, his eye-witness biographer, has set out in detail the seven warnings of tragedy which Jesus made clear would come upon the scribes and Pharisees.

Tragedy awaits you (1), he said, you educated, religiously-aware and politically-aware people because you’re play acting (2), you’re only pretending. You grow herbs in your gardens – like mint, dill and cumin and make sure to give (3) the required 10% of those to God. But you have avoided seriously important issues like justice, and mercy and faithfulness. 


‘It is religion without love that has been responsible for most of the misery of the world.’ (Anon.)
Justice. Was that among your wishes when you saw these and other recent tragedies? Where is justice in our world? What about mercy? Have you thought about mercy for dire offenders? And faithfulness? Do we ever appreciate the faithfulness of God towards all people, his sunshine, his multiplication of food and the wonders of the natural world all around us? The Justice of God? The Mercy of God? His Faithfulness?Neglected? Unloved?

Jesus added, “(4) You strain sediment from your wine but swallow a camel whole.” “You play act (5) because you clean (6) only the outside of cup and plate whilst allowing their insides to be full of strong acquisitiveness and self-seeking.” “You’re (7) like whitewashed graves, outwardly attractive but inside, full of the bones of dead people and full of uncleanness.” 

In AD 30 Jesus was teaching that tragedy awaits those who pretend they’re holy but are unclean inside. Do we even wish to deal with what’s inside us?

What did Jesus mean when he said that these educated, religious and politically-caring people whitewashed over the bones of dead people inside themselves (quite apart from whitewashing over their own uncleanness within)?


‘I would give nothing for that man’s religion whose very dog and cat were not the better for it.’ (Rowland Hill, inventor and postal reformer, 1795-1879)
Could it be that he held that these religious scribes were responsible for the deaths of others? Deaths like those in Manchester and London. Was tragedy awaiting these educated whitewashed Jerusalem leaders for one good reason? Was it because the deaths of others had come about through their own total avoidance – in all their thinking and behaviour and guiding of others - of the Justice of God, of the Mercy of God and of the Faithfulness of God. Of the need for inner cleanness?

Were they responsible for people dying without knowing the God who is holy and who provides a way to forgive the unclean?

Jesus wanted them to clean their insides because of the Justice of God. He wanted to show them the Mercy of God. With that in mind, a day or two later he was crucified, with his outside judged to be criminal.  

His inside was clean. He rose again. Both his death and his rising were so he could offer forgiveness and cleanness to his enemies – if they wished.

Sinner Syvret

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