March 12, 2021, Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Scripture: 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 market-places, 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.
Meditation ‘They do not practice what they preach.”
It’s comfortable to think, “Oh, those Pharisees!” and move on, assuming that this passage isn’t relevant today. But is that really true? Let’s look at the Pharisees.
They were lay religious leaders who wanted to observe God’s law so perfectly they had built up another body of laws to help them do so. They also wanted other people to follow the same rules. These rules were difficult, so some of the Pharisees prided themselves on their strict observance. They acted superior to people who failed. Some seem to have become so bogged down in laws of human making that they placed these laws above the commandments of God.
Jesus was open to the Pharisees. He accepted their hospitality. He welcomed Nicodemus, who came to him as a sincere seeker of truth. But Jesus had a problem with the way some Pharisees lived. And Matthew reported this for the benefit of his Christian community.
In religious movements (and churches) there’s a danger that laws or “norms” will multiply and people will become so bogged down in seeking perfection that they stifle the breath of inspiration. (The seven deadly words of the church remember are: “We have always done it this way.”) This may be why Matthew quoted Jesus’ recommendation to give God’s commandments more importance than an abundance of human precepts. He also quoted Jesus’ directives to avoid titles and honors and to live in humble service.
It’s an important reminder for anyone in leadership. As we’re told elsewhere in the Gospel, much is expected of anyone to whom much has been given.
But this teaching doesn’t stop with leaders. We’re all called to live what we believe. Each of us can ask himself or herself: How many times in the past twenty-four hours have I given a bad example? How can I become a better follower of Jesus?
Lord, forgive me. Often I think I’m quite good, and I can’t understand why others don’t do such good deeds as I do, or why they don’t shun the vices I avoid. When I’m thinking this, you sometimes —- mercifully —- let me fall flat on my face. And then I see how imperfect I am. Thank you for such moments! Please continue to enlighten me each time I begin to stray. Help me to really live what I believe. Help me to let go of foolish pride.
“The greatest among you must be your servant. ”