How do we guard ourselves against self-importance? Do we like people to know what we do in our work and what we do for the church? In the Gospel reading assigned for today, Jesus teaches us not to be filled with such self-importance that we regard ourselves as better than other people.
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
What is the background to this passage? For verses 1 to 4, the history of the Law was this: God gave the law to Moses, Moses gave it to Joshua, Joshua gave it to the elders, the elders gave it to the prophets and the prophets gave it to the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus is saying that the law itself is good and must be followed but not in the way that the Pharisees were currently doing. The Pharisees had made it a burden (or cumbersome load) to the people. Verses 5 to 12. Essentially the religion of the Pharisees was a religion of ostentation. They wore especially big phylacteries (leather boxes worn on the wrist and forehead. The one on the wrist contains a parchment roll with four passages of scripture from Exodus and Deuteronomy. The one on the head is similar but with different compartments). The Pharisees also wore tassels that were over-sized, again to draw attention to themselves. Still further, they liked to be given the places of honour at special meals by being seated next to the host and to sit at the front of the synagogues whilst the least important people (such as the children) sat at the back. Jesus says all this is wrong. The Pharisees sought to dress and act in a way which brought attention to themselves whereas the Christian should deny themselves so that God (not they) might be glorified. The focus must be on God not self (see, for example: Matthew 5:16)
So, what about us? Are we sometimes filled with a sense of self-importance? If we do something for the church and nobody thanks us, do we feel aggrieved? Do we continually compare ourselves with others and feel a smug sense of pride when people compliment us on what we have done? Self-importance may be a stronghold the devil has in our lives. Jesus reminds us that this is all wrong and that we are all equal before God. What a liberating thought.
Old Testament reading for this week: Joshua 3:7-17
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 23:1-12
Epistle reading for this week: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Psalm for this week: Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37