“Word for Today” – Matthew 23 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com
A couple of years ago now, Melody and I got to know a precious little girl, less than a year old, who was dying from cancer. Her story is tragic. At only three months old, doctors discovered a tumor in her brain. Because of its size and because of her age, the tumor was declared inoperable. After batteries of tests, series of treatments, and more hospital stays as an infant than many people experience in their whole lives, this little sweetheart passed away at the tender age of one. Her family, and her friends, were grief-stricken.
I can still remember Melody telling me, shortly after her funeral, “All of this just kills me. It kills me that she never got to experience the fullness of life. It kills me that her parents are now left with a huge void in their hearts. It kills me that God would allow this to happen. All of this just kills me.”
Perhaps you can relate to Melody’s sentiment. For we all experience suffering, injustice, and tragedy that “just kills us.” Indeed, this is the case in our reading for today from Matthew 23. For the past several chapters of Matthew’s gospel, tensions between Jesus and the religious leaders have been rising. And they now reach a boiling point as Jesus denounces the wickedness of these super-spiritual hypocrites: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” (verse 13)! The Greek word for “woe” is ouai, an interjection which expresses not so much denunciation as it does grief (cf. verses 37-39). In other words, Jesus, as he looks at the religious leaders and all of their vanity and duplicity and spiritual blindness, is not only angry, he is grief-stricken. And so, in what must have sounded like a visceral wail, he cries out, “Ouai! This is a terrible situation! This is a sad situation!” Or, to use my wife’s words, “This just kills me!”
And indeed it finally did. For just a few chapters later we learn: “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4). Jesus’ ouai toward the religious leaders moves them to plot his death on a cross.
In many ways, I would say that we live in a culture which does not know how to ouai. We do not know how to express our grief. After all, how many times have you, in the midst of some personal tragedy or trial, tried to “put on a happy face” to cover your sadness? Perhaps it is time that we take a lesson from Christ: It is okay to express our grief. It is okay, from time to time, to say, “Woe is me!” Not in some self-pitying way or in a way that seeks to get others to feel sorry for us, but in an honest, godly way. As Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4).
So today, is there an ouai you need to share with a fellow brother or sister in Christ? Is there a sorrow you need to get honest about? Is there an evil that breaks your heart? Today can be the day you share that ouai. And remember that, even as you ouai, no matter how painful it may be, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Blessed are those who mourn,” he also includes a promise: “For they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). No ouai lasts forever. For Christ is there to comfort us in our woes.
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