There was a poll on the internet that asked this question: “Which one member of your family is the best looking?”
The top rated answer in the poll was, “Me.” A majority of the respondents listed themselves as the best-looking member of their family. That corresponds with another public opinion poll which asked people which member of their family was the smartest. Once again, “Myself” or “Me” were the highest ranked answers.
But when asked which family member was most likely to tell a lie, “Myself” or “Me” only ranked ninth out of ten possible answers. So most of us think that we are better-looking, smarter and more honest than the rest of our family.
This brings us to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. The Pharisees were a group of Jewish scholars who were experts in the Law of Moses. In some ways they were the best people in the land. Following God’s commands was the focus of their lives. There is nothing wrong with that.
But somewhere along the way, the Pharisees seemed to miss the point. In their desperate desire to obey God’s laws, they began piling on more and more rules. Soon, the Pharisees had compiled more than fifty volumes of rules and laws that a Jew must follow to be considered righteous.
There were some significant differences between how the Pharisees viewed the life of faith and how Jesus viewed the life of faith.
The Pharisees were caught up in following the rules. Jesus was passionate about establishing relationships. Jesus has been teaching about loving God and loving one’s neighbor, as in last Sunday’s Gospel. He’s trying to say to the Pharisees and anyone else who listen that faith is not about rules. Faith is about a relationship. It’s about falling passionately in love with God. And once you know God and love God, then you will be inspired to live a pure and holy life. The rules will come naturally to you.
We can’t condemn the Pharisees because we are so often guilty of the same twisted thinking ourselves – substituting rules for relationships.
The Pharisees’ religion also valued appearances over authenticity. In other words, LOOKING GOOD was always more important than DOING GOOD.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), “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.’”
Pride and position were more important than sacrifice and service. The more important thing became what other people thought of them.
Jesus never wore fancy robes with long tassels. He hung out with outcasts and sinners, not with the movers and shakers. Instead of expecting the place of honor at banquets, Jesus took the place of the lowest servant and washed his disciples’ feet. “Respectable” members of society got nervous when Jesus entered the room. He didn’t play by their rules.
Back in the 2nd Century A.D., an anonymous man wrote a letter to a friend in which he described these Christians, who were hated and harassed by their neighbors. He wrote: “They marry and have children like everyone else, but they do not kill unwanted babies. They offer a shared table but not a shared bed. They are passing their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven.
“They obey the appointed laws and go beyond the laws in their own lives. They love everyone, but are persecuted by all. They are put to death and gain life. They are poor and yet they make many others rich.
“They are dishonored and yet gain glory through disorder. Their names are blackened and yet they are cleared. They are mocked and bless in return. They are treated outrageously and behave respectfully to others. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if being given new life.”
This is the way the early Christians lived in the 2nd Century. We who call ourselves Christians in the 21st Century would do well to live our lives in a similar fashion.
Jesus wasn’t trying to abolish the Law of Moses. He was trying to go beyond it, to show people the abundant life that flows from living in a true relationship with God.
Jesus tells us today in the Gospel: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
The saddest secret in most churches is the number of people who sit in the pews week after week, year after year, and never develop a true relationship with the living God. They keep all the rules. They look good. They are respectable. But they are spiritually dead. Don’t be one of those people! There is an abundant life waiting for those who are willing to seek God’s love and to live God’s will.
Thanks to King Duncan for sharing. Thanks to Channel 82 for the photo.
What do these words of Jesus mean to YOU? “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
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