Israel is brown. Really brown. I haven’t been, but I’ve seen pictures. And I’ve heard others talk of their experiences. Paint just gets sandblasted off the buildings, more or less, so most locals don’t really make the effort anymore.
That’s what makes the “whitewashed tombs” of Matthew 23:27 remarkable. They can’t possibly stay white. Coat after coat of whitewash are reapplied to make the ugly appear beautiful, only to be removed by the irresistible forces of reality. And the reality is, the stones are memorials to ugliness and death. Paint them whatever color you like.
The Jews of old applied whitewash to the crimes of their ancestors. Today we often want to whitewash over our own failures or those of near family members and friends. We offer excuses such as “they didn’t really mean it,” or “people who know me know I’m just like that” (as if doing something offensive consistently somehow makes it OK). And certainly we should exercise patience with those who are struggling to achieve God’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16).
But struggling implies effort. The fact is, often we make little effort at all to actually improve the landscape of our lives. We merely paint the brown stuff white and move on, knowing we will return before too long to apply another coat. We owe the Lord better service than that.