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Denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees

Gospel Reading: Mt 23:1-12
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.

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 Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

THE GREATEST AMONG YOU MUST BE YOUR SERVANT
These first 12 verses of Mt 23 are an attack on the Jewish religious leadership, but they are not addressed directly to these leaders. Instead, Jesus speaks “to the crowds and to his disciples” (v 1), and the main point of these verses seems to portray the religious authorities as bad examples, and thereby to encourage Jesus’ followers, and Matthew’s community, not to imitate their remote and haughty leadership styles.

The basic problem with the scribes and the Pharisees according to Jesus is not with what they teach; it is with what they do or fail to do. “They preach but they do not practice,” Jesus charges and gives three examples. First, they lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others, but do not lift a finger to help (cf v 4). This refers to the Pharisaic program for how people should live every day, but it has become too cumbersome. Second, Jesus charges them that they are more interested in appearances than in performance.

“All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels” (v 5). The true purpose of these phylacteries and tassels is to keep the faithful ever mindful of the laws of God and to assist the worshipper in prayer. Lastly, they consider themselves superior to others and they consistently pull rank. In contrast, the followers of Jesus are not to be preoccupied with rank and prestige.

“You have but one Father in heaven… you have but one master, the Messiah” (Mt 23:9b, 10b).

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