To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. A green cloth for the current church season, a cross, some newspaper headlines about how leaders behave may be useful to help you reflect on today’s theme.
(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.36)
Humble servant, Jesus,
teach me to be more like you,
guide my words and actions.
May I seek to serve
rather than be served.
May I be open
to the wisdom of others,
rather than assume
I know everything already.
May I look to others
to teach me
and encourage me
to use the gifts
you have given me.
May I teach and encourage
others to use their
gifts and talents too.
Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV) A warning against hypocrisy
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 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. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Reflecting on the Word
“The first will be last, and the last will be first.” (adapted from Spill the Beans Iss. 36)
Matthew’s gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, creating a situation where communities were trying to understand why this had happened, who was to blame, and what the future shape of their own particular faith community would take. In amongst this messiness was Matthew’s small community who were trying to define their place. Having split from their parent body Judaism, Matthew’s community was not happy with their local synagogue, particularly the leaders.
So it is not surprising, in Matthew’s narrative, that the scribes and Pharisees cop the full brunt of Jesus’ ire, They are presented as a group of people who had become hopelessly lost due to their own sense of self-importance, and though they taught the law accurately and sat on Moses’ seat, they were themselves failed to live out what they taught. Worse than that, they would go out of their way in displays of public piety (such as having excessive tassels to their prayer shawls), demanded the best seats, and demanded respect and honour from others.
While Matthew’s gospel probably doesn’t give a fair portrait of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus here is making a very good point about what we say and what we do. It is not hard to find examples of such public displays of righteousness or greatness in our own day. But this is not the way of living which Jesus teaches.
Jesus reminds his disciples they are not to place themselves over and above others, and they are all students under the instruction of the One. Jesus reminds them that the greatest will be your servant, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled, whereas those who humble themselves will be exalted.
There is honesty and integrity at the heart of Jesus’ alternative vision. At the moment, many of the world’s nations are struggling with politics and leaders that have neither honesty or integrity. Lies and falsehoods are spoken without fear of repercussion, others are demonised in order to play blame games, and those who try to speak out are ridiculed or silenced.
As Jesus laments how much he desired to gather everyone together as a hen gathers her brood, so must we remain vigilant and prepared to be truthful witnesses to God’s vision for all.
Reflecting on the passage
There is no escaping the judgement of Jesus over the hypocrisy seen around him.
As you think about the passage and reflection, think about stories that have been in the news recently or of people closer to home that you know show one version of themselves publicly while keeping another version private.
• What do you make of those double-standards in public life?
• Have you ever done the same thing yourself?
• Why do people do this?
Jesus is being very blunt here. It was a plain statement directly addressing the teachers, their teaching and their dishonest in not living as they taught.
• Why do you think Jesus was so blunt here?
• What do you think the disciples made of it?
• Have you seen someone speak bluntly?
• Did the blunt-speaking approach improve the situation?
Jesus calls us to think about how we should humble ourselves and live out the concept of the last being first. Spend some time in silence and think about these questions:
• When are situations where speaking out helpful?
• What things signs or signals help you to tell if speaking is needed or useful?
• When is plain-speaking used to facilitate power rather than challenge it?
• Where does God give you strength to speak out?
Prayer for ourselves and others
(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.36)
we thank you for your patience and mercy.
Hear us, O Lord,
as we offer these prayers for our world.
We thank you
for the men, women and children
who wisely use the gifts and talents you have given them,
who are making our world a better place to live in.
We thank you
for all those people who are gifted teachers
helping others to learn and grow in all manner of ways.
We thank you
for all those people who are enablers
helping people to discover gifts and talents they weren’t aware of.
We pray for all those people
who have been denied from using the gifts and talents
they have and who long for an opportunity to use them.
We pray for
all those people who spend so much tim envying the gifts of others
they fail to see their own gifts nor use them well.
Lord in a world full of people
who love to proclaim their wisdom but live foolish lives
we pray that your followers would strive to be as wise as Jesus and live as he did.
Help us we pray.
(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.36)
God above me,
God below me,
God around me,
God within me.
You, Lord God,
all the time.
Bless us with your presence as we go into next week
to do the work of your kingdom.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine