If we read Matthew 23:1-12 we see that, once again, Jesus has the religious leaders firmly in his sights.
In a time when few people were able to read the scriptures for themselves, they depended on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to guide them in the religious laws, the law given to Moses by God.
It was something Jesus acknowledged and so reminded the people to listen to those who taught from the scriptures; but he immediately warned against following the example they gave of being Godís servants. ďDo not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preachĒ. (23:3)
Where they came in for criticism was that, over the years, they had interpreted and re-interpreted the law. What resulted, was a complex and confusing array of additional rules and regulations.
The people were struggling under a load of man-made religious laws trying to do what they had been told was required of them by God.
The outcome was that instead of leading people to God they were holding them back. No wonder Jesus was critical!
The simple message, is that a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ is not complicated or onerous.
In contrast to the heavy loads placed on the peopleís shoulders, Jesus said that his yoke is easy and the burden light. He offers rest to those who are weary and invites all to come (Matthew 11:28-30).
He concentrates on what really matters in the law. As we reflected on last week, Jesus focusses on loving God and loving your neighbour (22:37-39). It is justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).
Sometimes, perhaps we too, like the religious leaders in Jesus day, get bogged down on things that donít really matter. We may think we are serving God in the ways He wants; the way we may have done for years, but never sought His will for us today.
We can get stuck in a religious rut, and not even be aware. Our relationship with God is to grow not remain static.
As we know, one of the effects of covid on our society is that we are compelled to think differently. We cannot go about our daily lives as we did before. We now have to think of new ways of doing things.
Perhaps, in the same way, we might give thought to how we serve God today, keeping at the core, Jesusí focus on love, justice, mercy and faithfulness. In that way we not only serve God, but we lighten the load others may be struggling to bear.
But not only was Jesus critical of the Scribes and Pharisees attitudes, he was also critical of their behaviour.
They had been called to serve God; they had a position of responsibility and the privilege of helping others in their relationship with God. Instead of honouring that calling, however, they abused their position.
When Jesus said that, ďThey make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments longĒ, (23:5) he was highlighting how they attempted to advertise their apparent goodness and holiness.
A phylactery is a small leather box in which are contained portions of scripture. One is worn on the arm and another on the head.
In that way the person is physically in touch with the word of God. In the same way, the tassels along the edge of the prayer shawl were an aid to remembering the commandments of God.
The larger sized phylacteries and extra-long tassels worn by the Scribes and Pharisees, however, were intended to be visible symbols to highlight the wearerís devotion to God.
It had echoes of ĎIím holier than thouí; but it was all outward show to make them look important. They didnít take to heart the words of scripture that they wore.
Instead of humble service, they were happier being served and given preferential treatment. They were quite content to be the centre of attraction.
Jesus, on the other hand, said that he ďdid not come to be served, but to serveĒ, (Matthew 20:28) thatís the key.
As for us? Jesus didnít call his followers to positions of favour, but rather to humility and service.
So, let us go out and go on, always in humble service, empowered with the living Word of God in our heart.
Let us pray
Gracious God, the One who loves us, who holds us in His arms and who cares for us, in prayer, we come to You in thanksgiving and gratitude.
As we respond to Christís invitation to give ourselves to work in Your name, we know that there can be times when we become so busy and involved helping others that we take our eye of You. Forgive us and help us always keep ourselves rooted firmly in You and grounded in Your Word.
Clear away any attitude of self-righteousness that may have crept into our life. Free us from complacency. Let us always come humbly and simply into Your presence and come to You with an open heart.
Amen, and may we continue to give ourselves in Godís service.