These are some harsh teachings of Jesus and I think fall right into the flow of yesterday’s passage. At this point, Jesus seems to me like a pot of water at that moment where it is about to boil but it isn’t doing so just yet. Can you feel that? It’s as though he could break at any moment. Jesus has been working along toward the destruction of the Temple system, and the time to do it is drawing near, but not quite here yet.
He clearly says, “truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom ahead of you”. This is not just a radical statement, it is a literal reversal of the current system. There was an order to things, expressed in the temple court system, and Jesus is turning it on its head. In Three Months With Matthew, Gonzalez seems to take it home to personal application, which is good, but, once again, he looks at it as though Jesus is talking about the individual. While that is certainly an appropriate application, rooted in the text, I think Jesus is talking not so much about the individual as he is the corporate temple system. He’s not calling out the sin of the individual as much as he is the sin of the system. When he says, “will enter the Kingdom ahead of you”, it sounds like there is some kind of individual sin that is keeping them from entering first, but I would submit that it’s not as much as personal sin as it is a sin-broken system. If there is a personal sin in this, it is in their marriage to a broken and corrupt system. It’s as though Jesus is saying, “this system is no more, so as long as you cling to it, you will enter last.” He’s saying, “trust me that you can break apart this system and still be ok. Marry yourself to God, not the system you’ve created to connect to God”. It is their marriage to the temple system that has caused them to not follow through on their commit to God and God’s commands. It is their marriage to the temple system that keeps them from adhering to the “weightier matters of the law”. The idol for the scribes and pharisees, their “golden calf” is the temple itself. They think that through the Temple they worship God, but Jesus is calling out that they are indeed worshiping the temple. Just as Moses burned the golden calf to powder, Jesus must tear down the temple.
I believe one of the most important questions The Church must ask through the ages is, “have we married ourselves to our systems of connecting to God more so than we have married ourselves to God and God alone?”. That is, “are we more concerned with how we worship then whom we worship?” The Church must be in a continual assessment of our systems and our relationship to them, for our “temple system” right now, is not above the reproach of God. And by “how we worship” I don’t mean merely style. I’m talking about system. Is God doing a new thing to the degree that “church as we know it” will be torn down? And if so, how would we feel about that? Are there flaws in our system of worship and being a community that may soon demand total reconstruction? It’s happened many times over in the past. We are not immune to it. Who are we, intentionally or otherwise, keeping out, about whom God might say they will enter before us? I believe we must seriously ask these questions, and seriously step into their murky, uncertain waters. These can be uneasy and frightening questions for many, but we must ask them knowing that while “church as we know it” may be passing by, the “church as we have yet to know it” is on the horizon.