The Gospel according to Matthew (23:1-12)
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“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.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Today’s Gospel has some very challenging words from Jesus, directed not so much toward the Pharisees and scribes, but toward the people. But, even though He did not address them directly, Jesus was clearly pointing out why the scribes & Pharisees were so often on the wrong side of the story with Jesus throughout the Gospels.
First, notice that Jesus talks about the “chair of Moses”. There isn’t actually anything in the Old Testament about such a chair, but the belief at Jesus’ time was that it referred to the hereditary authority of the leaders of the synagogue to continue to teach the Torah to all faithful Jews. They did so from a chair designated as the “chair of Moses”. And, as far as they taught the Torah alone, Jesus said that the scribes & Pharisees should be listened to. The problem was with their actions.
Jesus points out throughout the Gospels of how the scribes & Pharisees, the “enforcers” of Jewish law, were characterized as taking more pride in their enforcement, than in their living out the love of God which was the source of all of those laws. The lesson for Jesus’ listeners is the same as it is for us today: we are called to live lives of holiness, mercy, love and forgiveness, not because of the Church rules telling us so. We should live that way because it was the way Jesus Himself lived and we should follow His example, because that is what makes Him happy.
Oh, one other thing that will doubtless get me into trouble – that statement about the “chair of Moses” should also pique the ears of we Catholics, as it implies that we should accept all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and not feel able to pick and choose which ones we agree with. For us, these go back to the “chair of St Peter”, named for the one that Jesus said would be the leader of His Church for all the ages to come.
In this modern age of ours, we hear of many who disagree with the Church on any number of positions (abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, immigration, and so on). Even though it is hard, we are called to believe and to submit to the Church’s authority. If we need to know why that is, let us look back at the many, many martyrs of our faith who laid down their lives, rather than say that they professed any other faith, other than that of Jesus Christ.
Action for the Day:
Today, take time to find a place of quiet and solitude, and ask Jesus to help you live out the faith by your actions. Then, be open to what actions He may place upon you, and be thankful.
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