Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:1-4)
Jesus only ever had problems with two kinds of people – the very rich and the very religious. When I point that out to people they generally respond with a chuckle. I think I chuckled the first time it was pointed out to me. It is amusing to recognise the contrast between the standards of Jesus’ and the priorities of the church. It’s less amusing when you realise that the people Jesus was targeting were people like us!
“Call no one your father on earth”, says Jesus, “for you have one Father – the one in heaven.” (Matt 3:9).
That one seems directly aimed at me! I’ve been introducing myself as ‘Father’ for more years than I can remember. Many of my Protestant clergy-friends get around this prohibition by presenting themselves as ‘teachers’ rather than ‘priests’. Of course, the very next line from Jesus is “Nor are you to be called teachers, for you have one teacher, the Messiah.” (Matthew 23:10)
I don’t believe Jesus wanted to prohibit children from calling their dads ‘father’, and neither would He have wanted us to disrespect our teachers. The key here is to recognise that we are all fallible human beings – including those who’ve been appointed priests and teachers. We are all cut from the same cloth, and God is the only figure we need to look up to and worship.
Having said that, we need to be careful not to tone down the ferocity of Jesus’ attack on the religious community here. The entirely of the twenty-third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (39 verses in all) is one great tirade against the religious establishment, including chilling indictments such as “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)
Jesus begins by addressing religious people who are lazy, hypocritical and pretentious, but he takes it to another level in the latter part of His tirade – focusing on those who are corrupt and whose religion is entirely toxic.
These people are still with us – religious influencers who cite their sacred texts as a basis for persecuting minorities, stealing land and starting wars. I think Jesus saw this as the ultimate sin against God – to use the Word of God in such a way that it inspires people to murder and hatred.
All of us religious folk need to be chastened by the words of Jesus in Matthew 23. All of us have been guilty of hypocrisy, laziness and pretentiousness. Hopefully though, we can avoid the slide into religious toxicity. The key, I suspect, is humility.
“The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
Our Sunday Eucharist
We celebrated another wonderful Sunday Eucharist last weekend. The panel included Andrew Logan, Sam Madden and my old friend, Reverend John Jegasothy. We also had some unique input on the Gospel reading from Father Elias.
Before getting on to our set readings, we had an important chat about whether what is currently happening in the Middle East is a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. My perspective is that it doesn’t matter, and that we should be doing everything we can to stop the war. That’s not because I don’t take Biblical prophecy seriously. On the contrary, I believe that it’s those who try to use Biblical prophecies to justify wars who don’t understand their Bibles. It’s all in last Sunday’s recording …
I’m hoping to have our old Muslim friend, Tom Toby, back with us on the panel this Sunday, along with our dear brother, David Baldwin. Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer will round out the team with a pre-recorded reflection on the Epistle.
I believe Tom has now returned from his trips to London and Iraq. He’ll have plenty to share with us, and I’m keen to get a Muslim perspective on our reading from Joshua this week as it refers to the people of Israel driving out the original inhabitants when they enter the Promised Land.
I know of one church where the scheduled reader has asked to be given another passage this week. I understand that. These are volatile issues. Even so, we need to think these things through together if we are going to progress.
I’ll look forward to doing that with you on Sunday. Join us at midday on
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Father Dave’s Old School Boxing Academy made a great start this week at Balmain PCYC. I’m meeting lots of new people and it’s going great. Even so, I’m missing the members of the old team and hoping that all of you who have been boxing with me over the last few years will make the pilgrimage to Balmain to at least check us out.
Meanwhile, the devastation and killing in Gaza continues. Hearing about it from Bother Peter Bray in Bethlehem this week was helpful. I’ve included the video of our webinar below. What I haven’t included is the video Peter subsequently sent me, showing one of Bethlehem University’s security guards being beaten up by local police! Of course, the violence in neighbouring Gaza is broader and deeper and far more destructive. God, have mercy!
I’m hoping to do another link-up with Brother Peter very soon and I hope you’ll be involved. I’ll let you know next week. I also want to refer you to an address I gave at Massad University (in Iran) in 2018 on the subject of “Zionism and Biblical Prophecy”. I hope you find helpful.
In terms of publications this week:
- Our ‘Connecting with Bethlehem; webinar was published to israelandpalestine.org
- Father Elias’ reflection on the Two Great Commandments was published to the Fighting Fathers member site.
May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.