Matthew 23:29-36

THE TAINT OF MURDER

Matt. 23:29-36

Alas for you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you erect the tombs of the prophets, and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and say, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in the murder of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are the sons of those who slew the prophets. Fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents, brood of vipers, how are you to escape being condemned to hell fire? For this reason, look you, I send you the prophets and the wise men and the scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and pursue them with persecution from city to city, that on you there may fall the responsibility for all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of Abel, the righteous, to the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachios, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar.
This is the truth I tell you–the responsibility for all these crimes shall fall on this generation.”

Jesus is charging the Jews that the taint of murder is in their history and that that taint has not even yet worked itself out. The Scribes and Pharisees tend the tombs of the martyrs and beautify their memorials, and claim that, if they had lived in the old days, they would not have slain the prophets and the men of God. But that is precisely what they would have done, and precisely what they are going to do.

Jesus’ charge is that the history of Israel is the history of the murder of the men of God. He says that the righteous men from Abel to Zacharias were murdered. Why are these two chosen? The murder of Abel by Cain everyone knows; but the murder of Zacharias is not nearly so well known. The story is told in a grim little cameo in 2Chr.24:20-22. It happened in the days of Joash. Zacharias rebuked the nation for their sin, and Joash stirred up the people to stone him to death in the very Temple court; and Zacharias died saying, “May the Lord see and avenge!” (Zacharias is called the son of Barachios, whereas, in fact, he was the son of Jehoiada, no doubt a slip of the gospel writer in retelling the story.)

Why should Zacharias be chosen? In the Hebrew Bible Genesis is the first book, as it is in ours; but, unlike our order of the books, 2 Chronicles is the last in the Hebrew Bible. We could say that the murder of Abel is the first in the Bible story, and the murder of Zacharias the last. From beginning to end, the history of Israel is the rejection, and often the slaughter, of the men of God.

Jesus is quite clear that the murder taint is still there. He knows that now he must die, and that in the days to come his messengers will be persecuted and ill-treated and rejected and slain.

Here indeed is tragedy; the nation which God chose and loved had turned their hands against him; and the day of reckoning was to come.

It makes us think. When history judges us, will its verdict be that we were the hinderers or the helpers of God? That is a question which every individual, and every nation, must answer.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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