3 March: Matthew 23.1-12

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 practise 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. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.


Being a good hypocrite

If we sit on Moses’ seat and give instruction then we are like the Pharisees: likely to give good advice but we are unlikely to practise what we teach. Fortunately if instead we live the life of a humble student then we will be exalted.

There are a couple of problems.

  1. Don’t we have a moral duty to teach the young and the enquiring? Can we really leave teaching a child “how to cross Mill Road” to the Messiah?
  2. What if I like a decent seat when I go to a banquet and I like to be greeted with a bit of bonhomie and respect when I am out and about?

Should we really leave these things to “others”, letting them be humbled in the end times while we are exalted?

The reality is hypocrisy is part of life and that is not entirely a bad thing. The art of being a good hypocrite is, by this account, about not placing heavy burdens on others unless you are also willing to lift a finger to help.

We all teach and we all have a public life, so here are some things to reflect upon:

  • How do you teach? Inventing rules for a new game to be played with friends, leading a class or being an adult interacting with a five year old? There are things you may be doing which make your students’ lives a bit more complicated than maybe they need to be, to force them to work harder to find the solution, set up standards and comparisons they can’t reach. These are all things that are surprisingly easy to do from the best motives (or through sheer inadvertence).
  • With what authority you teach? Moses’ chair, being bossy, knowing what you are talking about? All of these give you an edge over the students which can be used to lead them forward one step at a time or keep them one step behind you.
  • Why are you ever offered a seat of honour? Is it a mutual honour for you and your host or are you being placed there just to keep you sweet? You can’t really answer this on behalf of your host but you can be honest about your reactions to being given a bad seat.
  • What do you enjoy when you are greeted in the street? Is it the joy in recognition or a desire for random passers-by, who know you not from Adam, to recognise you as important?

Think about the list first just to get an idea of what you do. Then think about it in terms of placing burdens on others. Then think about it in terms of lifting a finger to help them. Lastly, think about it in terms of what things really might be left to the Messiah after all – with you merely providing the helping hand.