Judged by the King

Matthew 23:1-12

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

My foray this week into Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final days has had an unintended side effect— I see the same shortcomings in myself which Jesus saw in the Jewish leaders.  Not good!

Like the leaders who had fallen prey to corruption, whom we read about on Monday, I can see myself falling prey to the same temptations, if given a chance. Help me, Lord, help me!

Like the leaders who were not bearing fruit, whom we read about yesterday, I have lived too many of my days bearing no fruit. Lord, forgive me! Have mercy on me!

And, like the leaders we read about today, I fall far short of consistently living either humbly or with a servant’s heart. Change me, Lord, change me!

In these verses today, Jesus is not directly addressing any of the leaders. Instead, he is talking to the “crowds” and his disciples about the leaders. He has a good reason to do so—he is telling them what their relationship with the leaders should be.

Surprisingly, he begins with a compliment.

He says, “[D]o whatever they teach you and follow it.”

In other words, “Do as they say.”

Here was something which Jesus had in common with most of the Jewish leaders—they were dedicated to fully, thoroughly and accurately teaching Jewish law.

However, he quickly added, “[B]ut do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

Instead of following their own teachings, Jesus said, these leaders mostly loved to posture, preen and be seen in public.

More bluntly, he said that they were “hypocrites.”

Even worse, Jesus said that the leaders were neither true servants nor humble people, which all of God’s people are called to be.

He said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And I wonder, “Do I say one thing and do another? Am I a hypocrite?”

Sometimes. May God forgive me.

And, what about having a servant’s heart, giving to others, putting their needs over mine, living humbly?

Well, I surely fall short here. May God forgive me.

What about you? How are you living your life? Is today the day you need to rededicate yourself to following Christ and his ways?

Prayer: Holy and Almighty God, forgive us for those times we fall short. The times we fail to love our neighbor, turn away from you or exalt ourselves over others. Put in us new and clean hearts, hearts of servants, hearts always seeking to be true to you. Amen.

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