Somehow in his public image Jesus is often reduced to a weak, feeble meek-and-mild do-gooder. Somehow when we talk about him as a friend he can lose his edge, his bite. Jesus was not weak, and Jesus was not an easy friend. He wasn’t then, and he isn’t now.
Where ever he went he would so something embarrassing. Talk to the wrong people. Do the wrong thing. Worst of all he offended and offended and offended the Jewish authorities. In Matthew 23 we read one of the worst. If Jesus rounded on someone like this when you were with him, where would you put yourself. Hypocrites, blind guides, greedy, self-important, blocking the kingdom from those who seek it. White-washed tombs full of the bones of the dead? For Jews for whom the dead were seriously unclean, this was seriously bad form.
So why did he do it? Is this carte blanche for us to be rude and offensive to those we don’t like? No. Sorry.
Jesus did it because there was nothing that wound up and offended Jesus more than when people made faith into a formula. Changed people’s motivation from love to do this and you will be in. Follow these rules. God’s grace is not enough. We had better make sure.
What Jesus wants is our hearts. And that doesn’t mean just our feelings and emotions. It means all that we do and all that we are. There’s no cameo roles or bit-part characters within us. He wants our motivation for our actions to be love – loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If our motivation becomes anything other than love, then we place ourselves at the mercy of his rant.
So we do not read this rant to laugh at the hapless Pharisees getting a rollicking. Again. We read this to see if he could say these things of us. Of me. We read this so that we can learn what it is that Jesus was all about. So that we can learn how to be friends with this awkward and cantankerous and generous and loving and demanding friend. For he is a good friend. But never an easy one.