Broad Brook Congregational Church
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Nov. 2, 2014
Matthew 23: 1-12
Partners in Service
Chapter 23 of the Gospel according to Matthew is an intensely heated speech of Jesus, who is incensed by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes, the ones who should be setting an example on living lives of greater faithfulness to God.
Jesus’ outrage at their hypocrisy has reached the boiling point. Jesus realizes his time is quickly coming to an end and he doesn’t hold back his critique of their actions. The teacher in Jesus uses this opportunity to instruct his audience about the way they are to live, as humble servant-teachers and servant-leaders. By the end of the chapter, Jesus ends with a deep sadness over Jerusalem’s failure to see how God was working in their midst.
Seeing this setting more clearly, helps us to understand Jesus’ frustration with such respected leaders in the community. The Pharisees and scribes were charged with holding the Israelites along with their traditions together while under the strong arm of Roman rule and culture. They were called to remind the people how to live out God’s ways and remind the people not only who they were, but also whose they were. In other words they can be seen as serving in pastoral roles; to be humble servant-leaders and teachers. They are roles shared with pastors even today.
However, as we know, actions speak louder than words. The scribes and Pharisees were not walking the talk. They seemed to have forgotten the heart of God. They wore the trappings of the office but did not live the calling. What was it about the Pharisees that so angered Jesus?
It seems that it was the burdens, the hundreds of rules and regulations that the Pharisees had constructed, and had heaped on the people. In fact there were so many that neither the people nor the Pharisees could live by them.
But what is the temptation in this passage that challenges us? It is the temptation to hear this passage as speaking only to the ancient audience and not to us. To close our ears to Jesus, to ignore his critique is to be like the Pharisees. If we don’t take seriously Jesus’ words then we run the risk of missing the heart of the matter—the heart of God. We struggle to be who God intends us to be and resist the temptation to put on superior airs. We need to remember whose we are and that our God requires us to walk humbly, to love justice, and to be compassionate. It is the state of our hearts that is important. If the state of our hearts is in line with Jesus’ teachings then we can be who we are truly meant to be—real followers of Jesus and not simply actors (the Greek word for hypocrite is translated “actor”).
God moves us to be servants to one another—to be partners in service with God and with one another. Each gift recognized but none better than the other. We are the Body of Christ in the world.
Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message puts it this way: “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty”(Matt. 23:12).
May it be so in your life and mine. In the greatest of hope!