Matthew 23:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Denounces Scribes and Pharisees
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.[b] 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.[c] 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Jesus boldness is stunning when you consider the Pharisees were listening in as He spoke! Right in front of them, He encouraged the crowds and disciples to follow what they taught, but avoid doing what they did. What an indictment! Jesus speaking this counsel in the presence of the Pharisees would have been shocking not only because it was in their presence, but because the Pharisees were both seen as rulers of the community and respected. They were the teachers and keepers of the oral traditions of the faith. The Pharisees actually attempted to cultivate harmonious relationships with common people. The Pharisees were seen as leaders by the people Jesus was speaking to!
It’s important not to miss Jesus was not only pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees here, but also redefining what the disciples and the people in the crowd (and us) should esteem and strive for in their personal lives! This isn’t just a slap in the face of the Pharisees; it’s a message of what Jesus says we should value over and above even good teaching. It can be seen as a message about our original design and purpose.
Jesus says, in effect, these great teachers you so admire, these men who have captivated you with their rules and burdens aren’t doing anything at all to actually to make things better around here. Like much of Jesus teaching, this group lesson points us all the way back to Genesis and our original calling to be image-bearers and co-stewards of God’s Kingdom! He’s saying, these people you so respect and admire should be serving me by serving others – that was their original design! – instead, they are serving themselves through your affections. They love to be seen as leaders. Don’t you make that same mistake!
Jesus ends by encouraging us to not even allow ourselves to be called teachers or leaders by others. The Pharisees play to the crowd; Jesus says we should play to an audience of one: God.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in this passage. When you survey your life, who do you see as a teacher or leader? Why do you see them that way?
How would it impact your life to only care about being seen by Jesus in all that you do? What steps do you need to take to live more and more with this in mind?