Jesus’ words must have seemed quicker than usual that day.
The speed of sound through air is approximately 340 meters per second. That means one word spoken can travel the length of nearly 4 football fields in only one second. Fast. No where near the speed of light, but still, very fast.
The words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees this particular day had speed, but their speed was not measured by distance but by comprehension.
Have you ever been in a position where someone spoke something to you and it was so shocking all you could do was stand in silence? The words seemed to “catch you off guard”?
The physiological way you heard the words did not change. The length of time it took these words to leave the mouth of one person and enter into you ear canal, past the auditory nerve, through the ventral cochlear nucleus, was no different than any other time.
The only thing different was the words that were spoken, and those words came at you fast. Too fast to comprehend. Too fast for you to respond to.
Those were the words Jesus spoke this day. Fast. Sharp. Their blinding speed was surpassed only by their unparalleled symbolic obviousness.
“Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to… you travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. Woe to you, blind guides!” (Matthew 23:13-16)
Those words came quick. Those words “caught them off guard”. And their response was violent silence.
Jesus was speaking in the Temple this day. The Temple was a sacred place. It was a place where sacred people gathered to talk about sacred things, and that’s where we find Jesus. This setting was a little different from earlier when Jesus was at Matthew’s house dining with sinners.
Or was it?
It seems that sacred places can be full of the unsacred – just like the homes of the tax collectors – however the response of Jesus and the tolerance he exuded was vastly different.
He desired mercy, not sacrifice. He desired an acknowledgement of God, not burnt offering. He desired to be a doctor to the sick, not an embalmer of the dead. He mentions ‘mercy’ and ‘sacrifice’ again in Matthew 12:7 when He speaks of those who condemn the innocent – those who value the structural, physical temple over the Temple revealed in the flesh (Jesus).
The Pharisees pointed people to the structural temple, NOT the human temple. No, the Pharisees shut the door to this Temple.
They could see with their physical eyes the physical temple… and those doors remained open.
But their spiritual eyes were blind. They couldn’t see the other Temple. And so they offered not mercy, but sacrifice, and made people twice the sons of hell. They multiplied their legalism in the lives of others, and in doing so, slammed the door of righteousness in the faces of those who were seeking God, condemning mankind to the very thing they thought they were saving them from.
What Temple are YOU revealing to people? Is it one that demands mercy or sacrifice?
If only we would understand these things. My, how these words come fast.