Sunday, November 5, 2017

Of Rabbi's and Teachers Mathew 23:1-12

In the 80’s there was a unique Christian rock movement that was quite contemporary.  One group from that time was Daniel Amos.  I think I have every one of their albums.  One of their songs is called I didn’t build it for me.. the lyrics read;
You think I built this for me?
This isn't mine - it's yours, it's really for you
I didn't build it for me

I don't have the time to enjoy it
I'm asked why I don't use the facilities
I don't have the slightest inclination
I won't consider it, I didn't build it for me...

There's a plaque in the hall
My name's on the wall
And a statue of my family
It wasn't my decision
It was all in a vision
I didn't build it, I never would have built it
I really didn't build it for me...

One man stood alone
One man did succeed
I'm the man, I'm the one
I didn't build it for me
One man stood alone
Numero uno
I'm the man, I'm the one
I'm the man of the hour!...

I used to say, "Why doesn't somebody
do something about this?"
I cried, "Oh, what about this need?"
Then a voice said, "You do something about it"
I said, "Oh woooow you mean me?"[1]...

This lyric, to me, demonstrates some of the Hypocrisy that Mathew is having Jesus speak out against.
“Jesus has not been winning friends among his people's religious leaders since he rode into Jerusalem, hailed by the crowds as a prophet. Right away, he set about cleaning up the temple of its moneychangers and dove-sellers. And now, with the way Jesus is teaching, it's no longer business-as-usual for the Pharisees and scribes, and they don't seem to know what to do about it.
They're offended by Jesus' parables that seem to be aimed right at them for their refusal to accept the reign of God as he experiences it. Expert in the law and all things righteous, they must find it galling to listen to this dusty prophet-healer from the hinterlands who marches (or rides) onto their turf and offers a scathing critique of them, in both parable and debate.”[2]
“Allegedly the context is Jesus' confrontation with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. In the previous two chapters we have encountered the vehemence of that confrontation, but here Jesus' opponents are not the temple officials ("chief priests and elders" -- 21:23), but the Pharisees and, presumably, the scribes who worked with and for them (23:1).
While the Pharisees, a group of lay leaders whose authority lay in their ability to interpret Torah, certainly had a voice in Jesus' day, it was after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE that they emerged as the primary representatives of the Jewish leadership. The confrontation represented here seems, then, to be the increasingly bitter conflict between the Jewish "congregation" (synagogue) of Matthew's city and the small group of those "called out" (ekklesia) as Matthew's church. Theirs was a family fight, and the name-calling and harsh rhetoric flourished.”[3]
Mathew is using Jesus to express his disdain with the local religious authority.
“There were a number of issues dividing the two groups. The Greek terms used to identify them, synagogue and ekklesia, have led many Christian interpreters to frame this as the opening salvo in the Christian polemic against Judaism that has characterized far too much of our shared history. It is important to note, however, that Matthew has Jesus begin by acknowledging the powerful political and social position of the Pharisees, and the unassailable ground of their authority: they "sit on Moses' seat" (23:2).”[4]
So you see what they say when they quote scripture this is seen as good.  It is how they interpret it and what they do with it that is of issue.  This has been expressed several times through Mathews gospel. For example, Mathew 12:3 where the disciples stop to pick some food on the sabbath and are criticized by the Pharisees. It is important to see that when Mathew has Jesus Confronted by the Pharisees that Jesus is usually correcting them with examples from the Torah. The past few weeks there have been multiple examples of the Pharisees attempting to trap Jesus in Law and he corrects them on their interpretation.
Jesus points at things the Pharisees do or counsel that are inappropriate in the eyes of Jesus' followers. Jesus is not looking at the solid simple rules of the Torah such as theft and murder but rather, the list here turns on issues of justice or status.
The first thing being criticized is the burden that the Pharisees are placing on others (verse 4), this is reflected in Jesus’ own ministry, “where the requirements of such things as Sabbath observance and purity codes are identified as impossible for poor peasants or the urban poor to follow…The detailed emphasis on following these laws was central to the teaching of the Pharisees, and not taking care to mitigate such things for people marginalized by their society, added the burden of religious approbation to the burdens of poverty--disdain on top of suffering.”[5]
This type of rigid interpretations and teachings is often what led to a poor blind man sitting outside the temple begging as opposed to being invited in to be ministered too. As a church our call is to be more, to continue to strive to be more to all. To be welcoming to all and that has been a journey for the church.  The UCC first proclaimed itself open and affirming in 1985 and yet there are churches today in our denomination I would not feel safe in.
We are a denomination who encourages us to be accessible to all.  Now grant it that is difficult in some of our more historical buildings.  Here we are doing what we can as we have put in the new kitchen sink at accessible height.  Our bathrooms are accessible, we offer Large and small print bulletins.  We have assisted hearing systems in place, and we do have two more on order.  Can we do more?  Perhaps.
At our past general synod we passed a resolution that stated;
 “Inclusion goes beyond 28
 accessibility. Inclusion means that the needs and concerns of one member of the body of Christ 29
 are understood and responded to by the whole Body of Christ. Inclusion is a form of solidarity. 30
 To be inclusive of people with disabilities, who have been called by God, to be part of the 31
 community of Christ is also to be advocates for the issues of social justice that specifically 32
 impact PWD. PWD, including persons with mental health issues, continue to be marginalized in 33

The Pharisees desire for honor is criticized next in the way the manifest that desire by wearing longer tassels on their prayer shawls or bigger Phylacteries, those leather boxes you may see strapped to a hand or a forehead that contain Hebrew text.  It is mean to be a reminder to keep the law. In our day and age a comparable example may be the preacher with the Yacht, plane, or a mansion.
I am not naming names but if you are preaching to serve a community that you know is being devastated by hurricanes and poverty I suggest you open your doors before there is an outcry of injustice.  I would say to any minister who is preaching a word that is touching the hearts of the poor, the hungry and the downtrodden and yet goes home to a million-dollar home there might be an issue. This is exactly what Jesus is preaching against.
I heard of one preacher who suggested a minimum donation knowing, knowing that his congregation was full of people who had suffered a catastrophe as he went home to his mansion on the hill.
In Mathews time the sin of showman ship was in the titles given.
“"Rabbi," "father," and "instructor" are specific titles to be shunned (verses 8-10) by Matthew's community. These are all titles that carry both status and authority in the value system of the Empire. "Father" in particular was the term for the head of a household, whose total life-or-death authority mirrored the role of the emperor. To seek such roles and titles would be seen as desirable and in conformity to the hierarchical values of the Roman Empire, but those values should not prevail for Jesus' followers.
For them the vision and practice of an egalitarian community, with God and the Messiah as the only authorities to be accorded honor and obeisance, are hallmarks they share with the divine reign whose coming Jesus proclaimed.”[7]
In the same way the United Church of Christ functions.
“All members of the Body of Christ are called to ministry through their covenant of Baptism. God calls all of us to follow Jesus Christ and proclaim the Gospel in our lives. We are all called by Baptism to minister, or serve, others in Christ's name. In that sense, all members of the church are called to be ministers. The UCC Constitution affirms that "the United Church of Christ recognizes that God calls the whole Church and every member to participate in and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ by witnessing to the Gospel in church and society. The United Church of Christ seeks to undergird the ministry of its members by nurturing faith, calling forth gifts, and equipping members for Christian service.
The apostle Paul taught that God gives all members of the Body of Christ "gifts" to serve others. "To each," he wrote, "has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good...." (I Cor. 12) The imagery of this chapter reminds us that as members of the Body of Christ we have gifts that differ from one another in form and function so that, working together, we can be faithful witnesses and disciples of Jesus the Christ. Wherever your road to ministry may lead you, you will always be able to discover one or more gifts, one or more ways that God has called you to serve "the common good."”[8]
In Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus may be hammering the scribes and Pharisees, but what he says is just as relevant to us today: it’s not about me. Rick Morely has a reflection on this;
“The criticisms that he levies are all about the ways religion can morph into something that is more about elevating ourselves, than about what we can do for God or our neighbor.
As I’ve said before,
The faith that Jesus taught has immediate implications. It’s about today, and it’s about tomorrow. To hijack the message of Jesus and turn it into getting us something at some time down the road is to turn Christianity into a narcissistic cult. And that’s the very opposite of the faith that Jesus teaches. It’s not about us. It’s not about accumulating wealth nor stability for ourselves, it’s about us loving God and our neighbor with all we have and with all we are.
The faith of Jesus is about finding ways to serve, and searching for ways to be a servant—to live as a servant…
Jesus wants us to be people who are filled-to-overflowing with joy and be the best person we can be…but it’s not supposed to be something that we’re spending time focusing on. We’re supposed to be finding ways to bring others joy. We’re to be finding ways to help them be the best they can be.
And, the thing is, that if others are living that kind of life along with us, while we’re focusing on their joy, they will be looking after our own.
When the Christian faith is really and truly lived out in community everyone is a winner, and God is praised and exalted.
But, when our first inclination is to isolate ourselves in our own cares and concerns, and take care of “#1” first and foremost, we actually all lose a lot.
Including the faith of Jesus.
The faith of Jesus that was manifest—not in serving himself, or looking after his own self-preservation or happiness—but the faith of Jesus that was manifest on the cross, just a few days after Jesus said these words in Matthew 23.
He didn’t just criticize the faith of the scribes and Pharisees with words, he showed them, and us, what real love, humility, and service looks like.
There, Jesus demonstrates the exact same selfless, genuine, and authentic love that he demands of us. He was flogged, mocked, tortured, and executed for God and for us, not for himself. It wasn’t some selfish ego-maniacal stunt to gain fame and fortune. He loved God and us with his life and his death, and that is exactly what he asks of us” [9]

“Sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are. Perhaps that's one of the reasons we belong in community: the remembering of who we are, and of who we are called to be, and of how we are to live. Perhaps that's the deepest call beneath much of what we "do" in church and as the church: in the teaching of both adults and children, in the preaching of the gospel, in the singing of hymns, in the breaking of bread and the sharing of cup.

We need to be reminded that God's hand has not only shaped us but guides us still and is in fact still at work in the world, through us. It goes much deeper than our friendships and community within our churches, invaluable and life-giving as they are. It goes much deeper than the esteem in which we hold our greatest teachers and the respect we give our pastors, understandable as those are. It is indeed, who we are.”[10]

We are indeed the hand and feet of Christ walking in this world…

[1] Terry Taylor, I didn't build it for me, 1983, accessed November 2, 2017,
[2] Kathryn Matthews, Sermon Seeds November 5, 2017, 2017, accessed November 2, 2017,
[3] Sharon H. Ringe, Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12, October 30, 2011, accessed November 2, 2017,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] United Church of Christ, Resolution GS31-19: Toward Dissability Justice, accessed November 2, 2017,
[7] Ringe, Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12.
[8] United Church of Christ, Questions and answers, 2017, accessed November 2, 2017,
[9] Rick Morley, It's not about me - a reflection on 23:1-12, October 19, 2011, accessed November 2, 2017,
[10] Kathryn Matthews, Sermon Seeds November 5, 2017, 2017, accessed November 2, 2017,

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