Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:1-12

The scribes and Pharisees get a bit of a comeupance in this chapter. It is well deserved. But I take it personally. Therefore, when I read “the scribes and Pharisees” I will count myself among their number as a professional religious leader. And I’m going to include, in my imagination, everyone else who numbers themselves among the “us” whenever their conversation takes them to the place where they draw a distinction between “us and them”.

Notice that Jesus isn’t criticizing the laws of Moses. We need order in our lives. We need boundaries. We need to know, in practical terms, what being loving to our neighbors looks like. On our own we can’t figure that out. We’re too selfish and self-centered. We need something outside of ourselves to guide us. If we don’t have that, then it is every person for themselves and the strongest wins. That is chaos. That is licentiousness. God loves us too much to cast us so adrift.

The trouble that Jesus has is with those in positions of power and privilege who apply these laws to others, adding a little more of their own interpretation for their own selfish reasons, and then create loopholes that don’t apply to them. The pastors who set high moral standards in public while they privately do whatever they want. The parishioners who dismiss everyone else in the world who don’t sign on to their doctrinal standards. The farmers who decry “welfare queens” and lobby for higher government payments for price supports and set aside acres.

Jesus nails our desire to look good in public. Our human desire for honor, for prestige, for red carpets. All of our efforts to keep the “riffraff” out of our neighborhoods. The desires behind most “not in my backyard” revolts. We want that mirror on the wall that always assures us that we are the fairest of them all.

Why? Because deep down inside we are afraid that we aren’t good enough. The wounds of life run deeply within us. As long as we keep the outside of the house painted and nicely landscaped, in the right neighborhood, no one will notice the pain we hoard inside. So we set up systems – all the way up to the highest levels – that will preserve the Potemkin Village realities of our lives.

But God loves us too much for that. He alone is Lord. He alone is Mother and Father. This is truly a blessing to know because, if God isn’t our Lord, then our lives are cast adrift on an ocean of pretenders, every one of whom wants a piece of us. God alone seeks our wholeness.

Let us pray: Stay near us, Lord Jesus, we ask you today. Slow us down, help us breath, let us see, deep into the reality of your creation in us, that we are loved. Just as we are. Now and forever. Regardless of what the rest of the world might say. Give us peace in our own skins, and use us to serve the people who will float through our lives today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 23:1-12”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    As you say in your prayer today: “Stay near us today we ask you Lord Jesus…..just as we are”.
    Yes, just as we are without one plea from the words of the much beloved hymn, “Just As I Am”, a couple of the verses:

    Just as I am, though tossed about
    With many a conflict, many a doubt;
    Fightings and fears within without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

    Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
    Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
    Because Thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

    As a side note* Billy Graham converted to Christianity in 1934 in a revival meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, led by evangelist Mordecai Ham hearing the altar call song “Just As I Am”. This song became an altar call song in the Billy Graham crusades in the latter half of the twentieth century. Graham used the title of the hymn as the title of his 1997 book – Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. – from Wikipedia

    God rest the soul of his faithful servant Billy Graham.

  2. georgene Thompson Says:

    The email I received no longer has a link to comment. I found this by accident. You may want to check into that.

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