“Woe to you, hypocrites, who lock the door to the Kingdom of Heaven before anyone else. You do not enter yourselves, nor allow entry to those who try to enter” (Matthew 23:13).
In the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the last time before his death, he directs his harshest criticism at the religious leaders who impede people’s access to God. Instead of opening the door to a loving and merciful God, they have made the road to salvation an obstacle course of legal and ritual duties, sacrifices and oaths that only serve to keep them in check.
Jesus seems able to absorb all criticism and resistance against himself, but he bursts into outrage at this misrepresentation of God and any abuse of power that prevents ordinary people from finding God’s love.
Matthew’s Gospel continues the theme we found in Luke’s Sunday Gospel about God’s gate. God is eager to welcome everyone into the Kingdom, but the door is narrowing for those who try to exclude others or who consider themselves superior to others.
When religion becomes a game of control and power, attracting leaders who make it a source of status and privilege for themselves, it is worse than nothing to guide people to spiritual health and purpose. Jesus avoided any form of special status and warned his followers against seeking power over others. The early church was presented as a way of life rather than a religious cult. Faith came from a direct invitation from God to the hearts of seekers and those who saw the power of love in the community of believers.
The Word of God comes to each of us today, urging us to simplify our path to God with love and joy. The merciful face of God gazes upon us in every experience. All we have to do is step into the harness of life with Jesus, who embraced our humanity in all of its challenges and opportunities. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. The door is open, and all are welcome to come in love and without judging others.