Lectionary Sunday: Matthew 23:1-12 – Puffed Up
1 Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. 3 “So you must obey them. Do everything they tell you. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for others to see. On their foreheads and arms they wear little boxes that hold Scripture verses. They make the boxes very wide. And they make the tassels on their coats very long.
6 “They love to sit down in the place of honor at dinners. They also love to have the most important seats in the synagogues. 7 They love to be greeted in the market places. They love it when people call them ‘Rabbi.”
This is a tough word for someone who is paid to teach the word of God.
Here are the questions that it raises for me:
- Am I laying cumbersome burdens on the children, youth and volunteers that I teach?
- Am I willing to “lift a finger” to help people who are trying to learn and mature?
- Am I doing things to puff myself up? things to help me look like I am really into God?
I found this little poem on a children’s ministry website that I go to from time to time:
You can know a lot of Scripture
And have the gift to teach,
But what is more important —
Is to practice what you preach!
This passage has implications for “professional” ministers and church leaders. But I think that there is something else here too. After all Jesus isn’t speaking to the Pharisees and teachers in this passage, he is speaking to “regular people.”
2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. 3 “So you must obey them. Do everything they tell you. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach.
A few years ago, Willow Creek church, one of the largest and most influential churches in the United States conducted a survey. Until this point, their philosophy of ministry was to encourage people’s participation in programs:
“Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” (Greg Hawkins, quoted in Christianity Today)
But after participating in the reveal survey the findings were surprising. The level of participation in programs did not correspond to spiritual maturity. The level of participation programs did not correspond to loving God more. The level of participation in programs did not correspond to being a more faithful disciple. What made a difference was a person’s commitment to their own spiritual development.
Bill Hybels, the lead pastor at Willow calls the people who are growing, “Self Feeders,” they are the people who take responsibility for growing in worship and prayer, for developing a caring community, for taking the study of the Bible seriously between services, and who are motivated to find opportunities to serve and share.
Isn’t that part of what Jesus is saying here? Be careful to do what the teachers teach. Be responsible for your own relationship with God.