Monday, November 3, 2014

Jesus Schooling the It Boys

Matthew 23.4-10:  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 honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,  and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 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. [NRSV]

“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’  “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ. [The Message]

Religion cannot be about showing off, or it isnt’ religion at all.

Showing off shifts our faith away from the worship of God (its very purpose) to the worship of ourselves.

The most insidious, the sneakiest way we have of doing this fools (even) ourselves.

The sneaky voice of the pretender is the voice of condemnation: look how bad he is! . . . I cannot believe she goes to church and acts like that! . . . And she calls herself a Christian! 

Here’s the thing: whenever I recognize myself in your sin, I am much quicker to lean toward mercy, forgiveness, compassion, love, understanding, forebearance, grace.

It is only when I do not see myself in you that I feel so free to condemn and judge.

In this way might we understand that our condemnation of others is just a slick way of pointing out how wonderful we are, for surely in our condemnation of others is at least implied a celebration of how very lucky we are not to be (like) them.

Remember how much Jesus liked that?  Not so much.

Why should it matter so to God?  After all, aren’t we better than some folk?  Aren’t there people just begging for a little healthy criticism?

Perhaps.  But by whom?  Is not God the judge?  And if God is THE judge, then who are we pretending to be when we get all judging?


Because once again, we are making ourselves the focus (spiritual narcissism), making of ourselves gods (or at the least, demi-gods), to be admired (which is perilously close to being worshiped) for our wondrous selves, if for no other reason that at least we’re not that guy.

But we are not the judge.

If it’s a legal model we so desire, what we, all of us, are, are co-defendants.  But the metaphor will only take us so far.  Life is not a courtroom.  And we do not get off more lightly for our wrongs by rolling over on the other guy.  It doesn’t work that way.

Condemnation of others is the adult version of tattling – we’re the kid and God’s the Dad.  And he doesn’t want to hear it.  The only person’s inventory we are responsible for is our own.  And God isn’t just Dad.  God is The Dad.  And he already knows.

Ultimately, condemnation of others is evidence of the absence of love in our hearts for another.  And we are commanded to love others, just like we love us.  To condemn another is to find them wanting in the courtroom of our own minds and appoint ourselves the judge.

And there we are, slipping into the judge’s chair again, forgetting that our job, our only job, when it comes to other people, is simply, merely, only, to love.

Anything else just isn’t our business.


  1. Thanks, Beth. I really needed to hear this today. I've been ill, and find myself judging someone close to me for not being a "better Christian" and helping me. I realize I need to send more love. Even if only in my thoughts, the judgment is a condemnation of ME - not my loved one.
    You are always on target! Love, Marilyn

  2. Marilyn, It's hard, isn't it? And especially when our expectations, unmet, bump right up against someone's otherness. Hope & pray you get to feeling better real, real soon. Hugs, Beth