Wednesday 07 December 2011

Bible Book:

"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 practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulder of others, but they are themselves unwilling to lift a finger to move them." (vv. 2-4)

Matthew 23:1-12 Wednesday 7 December 2011


Matthew spends a whole chapter here on a topic which takes justthree verses in Mark (Mark12:38-40). It is not so much a direct attack on the scribes andPharisees - after all Jesus is speaking to the crowds and hisdisciples, rather than to them - but a clear statement of thenon-workability of their approach to religion.

The Pharisees were meticulous in religious practice, in terms oftheir determination to abide by every detail of the law of Moses,and various traditions they believed to be derived from it. Thescribes among them were the professors of the day who reckoned tounderstand the subtlest nuances of interpretation. But despitetheir determination to achieve right practice of their religion,Jesus has already challenged his disciples to embrace a differentkind of righteousness (Matthew5:20).

Verse 3 gives rise to the familiar proverb, "Practise what youpreach". Since Jesus often challenged the attitude of the Phariseesto particular issues such as hand-washing, sabbath-keeping anddivorce (Matthew 15:1-2012:1-14; 19:3-9), the whole verse is ironic - thePharisees themselves demonstrate that it is actually impossible foranyone to do as they say! Despite this, they still insist that itis necessary (verse 4).

The rest of the passage criticises the ostentation and pride inwhich the Pharisees delight. Phylacteries were small leather boxesworn on the forehead, containing texts from Exodus and Deuteronomy,so that the Mosaic Law was literally at the forefront of theirmind. The length of their cloak fringes was a sign of how morallyconservative a religious teacher was; in some Christian traditionsthe amount of clerical collar on display seems to function in asimilar way today!

Jesus expects his disciples to shun the culture of honorifictitles, and in doing so he asserts his own unique authority astheir one true teacher. The statements about self-humbling inverses 11 and 12 have already occurred separately in Jesus'teaching (Matthew 20:26-2718:4).

To Ponder

What do you think might be the equivalents todayof the ostentatious phylacteries and fringes? Not just forreligious leaders, but for ordinary followers of Christ?

What burdens too heavy to bear do you thinktoday's Church places upon its members?

In the light of this passage, what are we to makeof the use of titles for Church leaders such as 'Most Reverend','Your Grace', 'Father', or indeed plain 'Reverend'?

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