Saturday, August 10, 2019

The gold and the temple, swearing

Matthew 23:16-22 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

Jesus chides the religiously blind, pointing out the hypocrisy of certain traditions.[i] James Burton Coffman writes, “The Pharisees’ punctilious preoccupation with trifles appears in all its ridiculous pettiness in this passage.” These traditions made “big deals” out of the “little deals” and prized the little things over the big things. For example, the temple, as a place of religious worship, is more important than the gold in it. Apparently, an oath sworn on the temple could be invalidated – one was not held responsible – while an oath sworn on the gold of the temple was absolutely binding. Nevertheless, their tradition ignored swearing by the temple, while making swearing by the gold of the temple an egregious offense.[ii] This indicates they thought more of the gold than they did of the temple. They had a misplaced view of what was more important, and codified that in the way they applied their traditions. The follow up regarding tithing (Matthew 23:23-24) also illustrates the obsession with trivial things.[iii] In spite of plain truth, these “blind guides” became fools who were princes of pettiness.

[i] To the previous appellation of “hypocrites,” Jesus added another – “blind guides.” They were not only personal hypocrites, but in their blindness led others into hypocrisy. Thinking themselves guides of the blind, they themselves were blind. “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Matthew 15:14.
[ii] On swearing see also Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12.
[iii] Jesus does not condemn the practice of tithing, which was commanded under the law of Moses, but their careful and detail-oriented practice of tithing while ignoring judgment, mercy, and faith.

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