Last night I poured my son a bottle of milk. I do this every night.
But then, instead of heating the newly-poured bottle up for my boy, I inadvertently grabbed a bottle of spoiled milk from the day before, and put that bottle into the microwave.
I do not do this every night. Similarly, my son does not throw up every night at 1:00 a.m. But last night, well … he did.
He paid for my distraction.
When not serving my child toxic milk, I’ve been spending some time in Matthew 23. I’ve been haunted by Jesus’s words about the Pharisees’ misplaced confidence in their collective progress. He says,
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! (Matt 23:29-32 NIV)
Essentially, the Pharisees are saying those words that should be a red flag for any child of God: “We’ve come so far.”
I always cringe when I hear them; which means I cringe a lot.
When I am talking with couples in crisis, and ask how they are doing, inevitably one (usually the worst offender) will say, “Well, we’ve come a really long way.”
When fellow Christians see news reports about racial inequality and protest, they scoff in disbelief, and say, “But we’ve come so far. Goodness, we just had a black president!”
And here, the Pharisees are claiming the same thing. “We would never kill one of God’s prophets. We’ve come much too far for that.” Only, we know that soon they’ll be shouting, “Crucify him!”
The ubiquity of the phrase across time and setting, betrays a deep-seated human tendency to lump ourselves into some general notion of collective progress, rather than dealing with our personal lack of progress.
We claim to have come so far, not realizing that the place we think we have migrated from is still where our heart truly resides. That worst potential still lurks inside us, happily unnoticed, and others will pay for it.
How can we possibly let this happen? Well, distraction.
This really seems to be the condition the Pharisees are suffering from. It expresses itself in various symptoms (outrageous legalism, selfishness, vanity, self-appointed gate-keeping, etc.) in Matthew 23, but when Dr. Jesus finally writes a prescription, its one for a bad case of distraction.
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (23:26)
After last night’s milk debacle, I get the strange feeling Jesus is talking to me, what with all this business of cleaning the “inside of the cup.” He might as well have said “bottle.” But to avoid unwanted self-reflection I’ve turned this into a blog post, and asked you to self-reflect.
Classic preacher move.
Distraction is preferable, after all. Who really wants to do the hard work of self-examination? Of cleaning the “inside of the cup”? Who really wants to welcome the suffering and silence necessary to quiet all of life’s distractions, peel back the layers insulating our hearts, and expose our truest self to God for the sake of the world around us?
Not me. We’ve come so far.
But I guess my son might disagree.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.