by Katy Lines
Christian birthday greetings
Christian financial services
If you do a Google search to autofill responses for “Christian a…b…c…” etc., this fun list emerges. Our American culture has made us almost blind to the adjective of “Christian” and it becomes meaningless. You can just as easily Google “yellow lampshades” as you can “Christian lampshades” and the struggle is strong to decide if you prefer the lommel gold softback shade ($59.99 with free shipping) or the Jesus Christ Crucifixion lampshade ($34.34, save 15%).
Much of what gets labeled “religious” or “Christian” today is merely just tacking the adjective onto a product or service for marketing purposes, but has very little to do with the actual life and way of Jesus, or the way in which Jesus calls his followers. It really is merely a label to sell something, and fails to transform us into Christlikeness. Much of what we experience as “religious” is often only a veneer of holiness, plastered over an unholy and inconsistent inner reality.
Matthew’s Jesus has struck a hard chord in today’s text. Woe to you! You religious leaders, powerful and elite. But if you look carefully, Jesus’ audience isn’t those religious leaders, but his own disciples and the curious crowd (23:1). Look carefully at yourselves too, Jesus suggests, for if your leaders are susceptible to the false religion of performance posturing, how much more so are you? Consistency between our inner and outer selves, our words and deeds, our faith and action, is a mark of our maturing.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Mt 23:27-28).
Maturing into Christlikeness involves integrity (internal consistency or wholeness, lack of corruption, Oxford dictionary)… consistency in how we treat others (23.13-15), discernment of what is actually important and what isn’t (23:23-24), and humility in relation to “progress” and the past (23:29-36).
Interestingly, neither common lectionary— the cycle of reading through scripture in 3-4 years— includes this text in the readings. It’s as if those who created the order of reading— religious leaders with power— were uncomfortable with these words of Jesus!
Jesus’ way— walking together in the Spirit— is meant to transform us. When we are baptized, not merely dipped into a dye bath to cover over our blemishes, but soaked— marinated— into the savory essence of God’s goodness, the Spirit seeps into every nook and cranny of our being. When we remain soaked in the Spirit, our inside and outside
beings— our whole, full selves— becomes clean (23:26). We practice treating all people with kindness; we mature towards justice and mercy; and we recognize that “progress” includes appropriate humility— honoring and repenting— regarding the past; and so on.
We don’t need “Christian” adjectives to describe us; our fruit will speak for itself.