The pastors in this congregation don't get to pick the scriptures they preach on.
We use the Revised Common Lectionary, in which a committee selected scriptures for every Sunday in a 3 year cycle. There is nothing prohibiting us from saying, "Forget that!" and making our own selection. But we haven't - and there is a good reason.
It is something of a faith practice to commit to taking on whatever comes your way. In life, we don't get to pick and choose. So in preaching, I think it is good to practice viewing all things, wanted and otherwise, through the eyes of faith.
And this is one of those "undesirable" scriptures that make me as a pastor both irritated and thankful for committing myself to the lectionary. Irritated, because I know I'm going to have to put in a lot more work to make sense of this passage. Thankful, because I know I will grow from the experience and probably learn a thing or two in the process. The lectionary committee even tried to do pastors a favor by cut out that troubling judgment part in the middle (v.20-24), but I'm not skipping over it. I'm all in. I've already made up my mind to do the hard work of facing a difficult word, I'm not about to take shortcuts. Bring it, Jesus!
And I'm not the only one who could benefit from such an exercise.
In the case of this scripture it is the Israelites, the religious insiders, the chosen ones, the people from Jesus' own community:
They've seen Jesus.
They've heard his words.
They've witnessed his deeds of power.
Yet still, they go right on behaving like bratty, little children. They taunt one another. They slander God's messengers. They forget themselves, their identity as the children the Father created them to be.
And they aren't going to like the difficult word Jesus is speaking to them now - taking them to task, pointing out the error of their ways, calling them to repent. They really won't care for the way Jesus unfavorably compares them to the foreigners on which they have long looked down. They don't want to do the hard work of listening and soul-searching. They don't want to have to acknowledge their failure, because that means they would have to do the hardest thing of all: change.
The Israelites think they can do no wrong.
And they don't want to hear otherwise.
But the word that God will speak is not up to them. And while it might not sound like good news, it sure would do them a world of good to listen.