We are at a point in Matthew’s Gospel now where Jesus is confronting the hypocrisy of the religious establishment head on. He’s calling out those who look spiritual, look like they are committed to God and have status from that in society – and yet are not living out the values of the covenant.
His point is, that for all their religiousness they can’t even spot the messiah everyone has been waiting centuries for. They literally don’t know God when they see him!
The challenge Jesus gives here clearly informed James in his writing. He put it like this.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
Saying ‘I’m a Christian’ and not living that out isn’t faith. Faith isn’t just intellectual assent to a belief system and then do whatever you chose… our faith should show. Here Jesus points out that the faith of the poor, of outcasts, the disreputable was more real than that of the so-called religious people.
So – what does this mean for us in these disrupted times? When some of us are shut in alone, some of us are key workers, some of us have become home schoolers! We are ALL being stretched in one way or another.
What would God have us do?
Well, this text is about who has the ability to recognise Jesus – to see God at work in him and to align our attitudes and actions with what he asks of us. So my suggestion is this:
Let’s focus our attention on God more than on the news or our social media feeds. We claim, as Christians to be people of prayer – so let’s do that, let’s pray. Without ceasing, whatever the challenges we are facing, lets press in in prayer. It brings faith – which is the opposite of anxiety.
We also claim to be worshippers – so let’s do that, let’s take responsibility for our worship lives, not just leave it to Chris and his team on a Sunday. Let’s have worship music on around us, let’s sing, praise, read psalms with our household, or out loud alone each morning. Worship keeps us consciously connected to the throne room of God, the place of perspective.
We are called to be people of hope and joy, so let’s train ourselves – do that old school ‘count your blessings’ before bed each night, so we fix our eyes on where Jesus is at work around us, in us, through us. It will help us when we feel overwhelmed.
There is a chance for all of us, alone, on the front line or at home with others to press into God, to grow in the fruits of his spirit. To be those who stand under the protection of the capstone that is Jesus.
Developing these spiritual muscles will hurt at times, just like all exercising does. In the days and weeks to come we are all going to get things wrong and have to learn to say sorry. But like the son who said ‘no’ and then did what the father asked we can be confident that there is grace when we turn towards, rather than away from, God.
So – let’s be the pray-ers, the worshippers, the comforters, exhorters and spotters of God’s goodness – let’s be the disciples of Jesus we claim to be.
I wonder what that might look like for you today?