Matthew 23:1-12 & 23

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

The Congregational Church of Easton – November 5, 2023
Have you heard the one about the priest and the rabbi?”
A rabbi and a priest were talking about the perks of each job.
The priest mentioned that he gets a rectory to live in that comes with a housekeeper and a cook, all paid for by the church.
The rabbi responded by asking if the priest could ever be promoted.
The priest said, “Well, yes, I could be asked to become the archbishop of a larger metro area like Chicago or New York.”
“Is that as high as you can go?” asked the rabbi.
The priest replied, “Well, I could be invited to go to Rome to serve as a cardinal.”
“Is that the end of the line?” the rabbi queried.
The priest mused, “Well, it’s incredibly rare, but I, a humble parish priest, could become the pope, the head of the worldwide Catholic Church.”
The rabbi asked yet once more, “Is that as high as you can go?”
“What are you expecting, for me to become God?” the priest responded indignantly.
The rabbi replied, “Well, why not, one of our boys made it.”

How’s that for arrogance?

As we heard in our reading in Matthew, the Pharisees were arrogant and proud. But, to their credit, they were orthodox in their belief, such as in heaven and hell, angels and devils, and the resurrection of the body — even though they ignored the more important precepts of the Law such as healing and forgiving.
Jesus said: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example” (Matt 23:2).

A word about the “Moses seat:” Archaeologists have found marble chairs on the daises of synagogues from which a teacher would speak. Those stone chairs would be the Moses’ seat Jesus talks about.
He said, “. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;

What does Jesus mean when he says the Pharisees make their phylacteries wide? In the original Greek, the word is “phylaktērion,” which refers to a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law. It’s a symbol of their devotion to God’s law. Jesus is saying that these religious leaders are making their phylacteries wide – they’re exaggerating their devotion to the law for everyone to see.

He is painting a picture of religious leaders who are more concerned with appearances than with genuine faith. They’re all about the show, the outward display of piety. But inside, their hearts are far from God.

The great theologian Augustine of Hippo once said, “The measure of love is to love without measure.” This is the heart of what Jesus is teaching. It’s not about the outward show of religion, but the inward transformation of the heart by love.

The message of Matthew 23 is clear. Christianity is not about making converts to dogma, but making converts to love. It’s not about the outward show of religion, but the inward transformation of the heart by love.

The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership ia a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to advance the awareness, understanding and practice of servant leadership. Anita Hurst is director of student programs at the Center. She says,
…for some people [the desire to serve] is subconscious and engrained as part of who they are. They have been that way their whole lives and behaving as a servant-leader is a part of the values they have developed since childhood.
Does this sound like anyone you know? Look around you. [Pause]. Do you see any servant leaders? As I look around, I can’t see anyone who doesn’t serve this church and/or the community. You are all servant leaders. And, you can feel humble about that.

In my role as pastor, I get a lot of attention and recognition. It’s tempting to think that I’m special and to feel proud of myself. I have to remind myself that, I’m just a human being, a child of God, just like you. I need to catch myself when I start to feel proud or that I am somehow great.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 23 remind us that true greatness is found in humble service. The greatest among you will be your servant. We are called to be different from the world’s standards of leadership, where roles and titles and positions reign supreme. Instead, we are called to follow Christ’s example of selflessness and humility.
Let us pray. Holy One, help us to commit ourselves to serving one another with the love and humility that Christ demonstrated. Help us be like Jesus, who loved God and loved others with all His heart.