Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What we do versus who we are

Matthew 23: 1-12

I know this is a gospel reading from ten days ago, but through all the readings this is the one that was on my heart to write about today.  When I was brought into the church I nearly wore a mantilla at my confirmation, but then didn’t, because of this scripture.  I had to examine my heart, pray, and humble myself before I began wearing the head covering to church due to this scripture.  I had to make sure that I was doing the right thing, for the right reasons.  In this instance, for me, I was. I wanted to show humility before the Lord, it was scriptural to do, and it wasn’t to show anyone else that “Me-so-holy.”  That was important.

The human ego hasn’t changed much since the time of Jesus, believe it or not, and the behavior of the Pharisees can be found in the church today.  Let’s explore what Jesus said, what it might mean for us, and how we can mindfully apply it to our walk.  It also may help us reveal who our true teachers are, which is also important. 

Matthew 23: 1-4

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,

"The scribes and the Pharisees

have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.

Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,

but do not follow their example.

For they preach but they do not practice.

They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry

and lay them on people's shoulders,

but they will not lift a finger to move them.

This, of course, is the essence of hypocrisy that Jesus is describing.  The people he is describing seek titles for power over other people.  They seek control for the sake of control, and do not aid those people they seek to control.  It’s here we get the old saying, “Practice what you preach.”  It’s important that we consider this scripture mindfully for a couple reasons.  If we are in a position of power, in the church or even in the world, it is important that we consider a few things.  The first being, are we in this position because this is God’s will, and what he truly called us to, or alternatively-is this the title we chased for our own glory.  That understanding is the foundation of the rest.  If we can answer that question honestly then we know how the rest is going to pan out for us.  If we sought the title for ourselves then I can almost promise you the rest of our behaviors are going to fall in line with what Jesus describes the Pharisees with, because we aren’t serving the Almighty, we are serving our own ego.  That is not a promise God wants from us.  If we place ourselves high when it’s not truly our place to be then we feel the need/desire to prove we belong there and that is how we become Pharisaical in nature.  Other people won’t notice we are frauds, if we assert our might on them keeping them in bondage to impossible standards.  If we are truly leaders, then we are as Jesus was, servant leaders helping reveal truth and also helping people live the truth.  We can, with examination, discern for ourselves and to a degree those who would teach and lead us, with this scripture what the is truth.  Beware, it is paradigm shifting.  It may mean we have to back away from things or people.  It may mean we have to step down and humble ourselves to release the human glory to obtain true obedience.

Matthew 23: 5-12

All their works are performed to be seen.

They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,

greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'

As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.'

You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Call no one on earth your father;

you have but one Father in heaven.

Do not be called 'Master';

you have but one master, the Christ.

The greatest among you must be your servant.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;

but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Before I go on about this, I want to clarify what a phylactery is and why widening it or lengthening tassels is an important picture to understand.  A phylactery (called a tefillin which is still in use in the Jewish religion) is a small leather container worn on the forehead connected to a leather strap which is wrapped around the arm.  It contains a bit of scripture.  It’s worn in morning prayer through the week day and was created as a sign that the Almighty brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt.  ( Exodus 13: 16 and 19, and Deut 6:9 Deut 11:18) The prayer tassels He is referring to are called Tzitzit (Numbers 15:38 and Deut 22:12) They are specially knotted fringes on a prayer shawl.  Each knot is symbolic of something important, and so an extra-long tassel might be to show just how much more observant the wearer happens to be.  If you want to translate this understanding into Catholic, Gentile/Goy, terms you might imagine someone carrying a massive rosary around to show how very prayerful they are.  You may also consider a priest who wears a bit extra for the glamor.  Even as I described in the beginning, a woman who wears head covering for the reason of showing off the humility. 

Jesus puts it plainly.  What they do is not done for the humble reason of obedience to the Lord, but for people to look at them in awe for how ‘holy’ they appear to be.  It’s not just what they/we do it’s why we do it that matters. 

If we want to be a priest, nun, brother, some kind of minister, for the title and honor we think it bestows on us, then we are calling ourselves to temporary glory.  The Lord does not honor that as Jesus explains in this passage.  Whatever we do, we should do it humbly as servants, for nothing other than the peace obedience brings. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Heavenly Father, show me where I work for my own glory so I may rectify my actions and make of myself an obedient servant that pleases you.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel

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