Before going any further, please take the time to read Matthew 23 in its entirety so that you can better understand what is written in this article. Did you read it? Alright, let’s get to it. Now, I want you to think about the harsh rhetoric (sons of the devil, brood of vipers, whitewash tomb, snakes, hypocrites) Jesus used in this passage of Scripture to refer to the religious leaders known as “The Scribes and Pharisees.” Many Bible commentators and theologians believe Matthew 23 to be “The unloveliest chapter in the Gospel,” because of its scathing rebuke that does not quite fit the loving and peaceful message of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I am only going to focus on verse 23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
The Scribes (teachers of the Law) and the Pharisees were religious leaders during the time of Christ. They were experts in the Law of God, although there were some differences between their religious views and practices (Mark 12: 18). The Pharisees were very popular and influential among the common people, and they firmly believed in outward forms of piety (Matthew 23: 5) and strictly upheld Jewish traditions (washing of hands, not working on Sabbath, not associating with sinners etc.). Jesus’ ministry and mission challenged everything they stood for. Jesus challenged their teaching on “washing of hands” in Matthew 15: 1 – 20. Jesus challenged their understanding of who their neighbor was in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: 25 – 37. He also challenged their teachings regarding working on Sabbath (Mark 3: 1 – 6). They were bitter enemies of Jesus and His cause, which is why they wanted Him killed. However, in Matthew 23: 23, I want us to consider Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the Pharisees’ emphasis on one aspect of the law and total neglect of the more important matters of the law. The Scribes and the Pharisees were known to strictly uphold the laws concerning tithing in the temple, but they failed to uphold God’s laws regarding justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus was not against their faithful adherence to “tithing laws,” but it was hypocritical and unbecoming of them to totally neglect “justice, mercy, and faithfulness,” which are basic characteristics of God (Psalm 9: 8, 16; 89: 14). Also, it is worth noting that Jesus said “Justice, mercy, and faithfulness” were more important matters than tithing according to God’s law. Neglecting these things that are very important to God are the reason why Jesus said “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees.” The things the Scribes and the Pharisees neglect seem to be of a greater concern for others, the common people, unlike themselves. Also, it is possible that Jesus had Micah 6: 8 in mind, although it was not an exact quote: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Even in the Old Testament, God always put a great emphasis on “Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness”
I believe we, the disciples of Christ, must not put a greater emphasis on certain things in the Bible and neglect other things that are as important to God: Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness. When reading scripture, it is important that we wholeheartedly embrace all of God’s Word, especially the teachings regarding “Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness.” To neglect these doctrines would result in a scathing rebuke from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The other day, my friends, my wife and I watched this movie called “Just Mercy,” and I would encourage everyone to see it. The movie is based on a true story that happened in Alabama back in 1990 where a person was wrongly convicted for a crime he did not commit. That man was placed on death row. But, a young Harvard educated lawyer from Maryland decided to go there and make sure that proper justice was rendered, because he believed the law must serve everyone equally. In the end, after his client was exonerated, the young lawyer said in front of the US Senate, “If we can look at ourselves closely, and honestly, I believe we will see that we all need justice. We all need mercy. And perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” Disciples of Christ must stand for everything written in the word of God, unlike the Scribes and the Pharisees. Proverbs 31: 8 – 9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” (NLT).
Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness