Feb 3 2013 - Matthew 22:34-23:12 – Everything they do is done for people to see
Jesus is scathing in his criticism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. "Everything they do is done for people to see", he says. They are hypocrites; they put on a good show, but behind the image they project there is no corresponding reality. Much of what they teach is good, and is worthy of attention, but they do not practice what they preach.
This is a common human failing. In many contexts and organisations there will be those who love to lay down the law for others but seem to feel that they do not need to live by these rules themselves. They place burdens on others which they are reluctant to share and show little concern to relieve. Such behaviour stems from the conviction that they are an elite; they stand apart from hoi polloi. Others are there to serve their needs.
The scribes and Pharisees were characterised by a love of such status. They wanted other people to recognise who and what they were – at least on the outside. They loved their elaborate clothing which declared, "here's someone special, a religious bigwig, show him due deference." They loved to be given the place of honour at feasts and festivals where they could be seen and noticed. They loved their titles by which they were acknowledged and honoured by others. Jesus warns against the spirit that dominated these people and prompted such conduct – the spirit expressed in the prayer of the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men…”
And how is it with us? I find it easy to point a finger at other ecclesiastical traditions that have special dress to denote people of different rank and importance and which use a complexity of titles and salutations to reflect their precise place in the hierarchy. I find it easy to be critical of Christian ministers who want to be addressed as ‘Father’ when this is explicitly condemned by Jesus. But because I eschew such things, am I immune from the craving for recognition? Do I not glow with pride (inwardly) when people speak well of me? There is a deceptively subtle line between the desire to know that your work has been useful and has encouraged others and the desire for praise that will feed your own ego. It's the fine line between wanting to be a good servant and wanting the recognition of a lord.
Jesus calls us to watch continually over our own hearts. The only safeguard against such common human failings is to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus, the Son of God, was not concerned for his own glory but was concerned to be the source of blessing to those he came to serve. He calls us to follow him and to have this same mind, heart and attitude.
This is a hard call. We simply cannot manage it on our own – we haven’t got it in us. It demands daily prayerful submission to the Lord Jesus and recognition of our utter dependence upon him. We need him to teach us how to follow him in the path of selfless service. We need him to help us to recognise that he alone is Lord and is worthy of all praise.
Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.