WelCom November 2017:
Gospel, Matthew 23:1-12
1 Then addressing the crowds and his disciples Jesus said, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. 3 You must therefore do and observe what they tell you; but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practise what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! 5 Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader headbands and longer tassels, 6 like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, 7 being greeted respectfully in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi. 8 ‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. 9 You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you must be your servant. 12 Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.
Are We Proud or Humble?
There is an air of desperation in today’s gospel. The scene is Holy Week. The crowds have packed the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem to listen to Jesus, a passionate preacher who was, telling them to listen to the Pharisees, the teachers of Jewish faith because they were the authorised interpreters of Moses’ Law. While Jesus said to obey and follow everything they taught, He followed this up with a warning not to do as they did. Jesus condemned their actions, calling them showboats, because they paraded their status. They dressed to draw attention to themselves, they sought the best seats in the synagogue, then with self-proclaimed authority, demanded they be greeted with honour in public areas and addressed as Rabbi. These Pharisees partnered the wealthy, in establishing a domination system, and creating a meticulous tithing system for themselves, that not only served the interests of the temple, but went far beyond what was required in the Torah.
Jesus then addresses the Pharisees. He tells them they cannot be called Teacher, Leader or Messiah, as there is only one teacher – the Lord in heaven Himself.
What is Jesus telling us today? We may not like it. Jesus asked the question, how did Old World people become rich? Those days the well-to-do were not the people who had worked hard to acquire an education or start a business that brought large financial rewards. Instead, wealth then was the product of being in a small elite class in a massively exploitative system. This was acquired by inheritance, or by allying oneself to the rulers. They became wealthy by taking land and production from the peasants. Jesus’ criticism of the wealthy was they were not innocent, and their wealth was acquired at the expense of the poor.
Is this any different in New Zealand today? As individuals, we need to be mindful that we are part of a community. For those of us who may be selfish, let us realise that selfishness or egotism, is the opposite of love and care for other people. Jesus tells us to ‘love one another’ and St Paul advises us to accept the talents we have with true humility, thanking God for these talents without hidden boasting in the form of false humility. Let us, by the modesty Our Lord has given us, see and appreciate the talents given to others.
Tom Gibson is a retired dairy farmer and a parishioner at The Immaculate Conception, Stratford.