Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of Matthew with you this week.
This week we will be looking at chapters 22 and 23 of the Gospel according to Matthew. Today, we will look at Matthew 23, verses 1-22, and we’ll focus on verses 11-12.
You may recall from yesterday that this week we’ll be looking at one long conversation that Jesus has with various groups. In this passage, Jesus turns and addresses the crowd that has been listening to his debate with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus is ready to say something that is on his mind.
Jesus tells the crowds that these religious leaders were at fault for not practicing what they preached. To convince the audience, Jesus describes all sorts of religious practices that were common in the day, that these men took to the extreme to appear more pious, more holy than they really were. Jesus explains that the religious leaders dress in a way that sets them apart and attempts to make them look more devout than others. Jesus says they are far more concerned with appearances than their actual devotion to God; he explains that they like public displays of respect more than they like to speak about how their roles place upon them a responsibility to care for the people.
Just shortly before this passage, Jesus has said that ‘the Son of Man’—the way Jesus referred to himself—‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Unlike these religious leaders that wanted public affirmation for their religious practices, Jesus was very happy to carry on doing what he knew God wanted without any recognition. Humility, no matter what happened, was Jesus’ way.
Here, Jesus says it slightly differently: ‘The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
I had a friend in University from a big family that lived in a small town in Georgia. He was one of 8 children. It was hard to be heard in a house of 10 people. His father worked in construction—they were a working class family, and all the kids were expected to start helping as soon as they were old enough. His family had a saying: ‘Are you a doer or a talker?’ You didn’t stand out in that crowd of 10 because you looked good or sounded smooth. No, you stood out when you worked hard and did your part for the family without wanting recognition. With 10 mouths to feed and 10 lives to organize, there wasn’t time for anyone to stand around and wait for recognition.
So it is with Jesus. There is good news to share and a kingdom to build. There are poor and sick and disadvantaged to care for. This is important work, and there is so much of it that one doesn’t have the time to stand around and wait for someone to tell you ‘good work.’ That, instead, is God’s job. And, for the God that created everything, sees everything, and can speak the words ‘well done good and faithful servant’ to us from the heavens, that is no problem either.
It is said that Mother Teresa remarked ‘Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.’ Jesus calls us to exactly that. What small things will you do with great love today?
Loving God, you gave up all the treasures of heaven to live with us as a humble carpenter from a small town in an insignificant place. You never expected public praise for it. Teach us the same servant spirit of humility. Amen.
READING: Matthew 23:1-22
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 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. 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.
‘Everything they do is done for people to see: they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and to be called “Rabbi” by others.
‘But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.” You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.