Summary: The world teaches us to seek after power and prestige, as the Scribes do, but Christ teaches us a different way to live.

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Year after year, Ken and I have marveled at the wonderful, glorious fact that we can take Mary Ellen clothes shopping and she is not concerned about brand names. We’ll take her to pick out some jeans and long-sleeve shirts in the Fall, or shorts and t-shirts in the Spring. We usually need to get her a new pair of tennis shoes before the start of school every year. And always, Mary Ellen gladly follows us to Academy, or Target, or some other discount retailer to find what she needs. And always, Ken and I pat ourselves on the back because Mary Ellen wasn’t bothered by the fact that she didn’t get Nikes or Levis or whatever. Until this year…

With a generous newspaper-clipped coupon in hand, Mary Ellen and I headed to Kohl’s several weeks ago to buy her some jeans and winter shirts. All was going well until Mary Ellen asked, “Can we see if they have any Converse shoes?” (In my mind I heard, “Duhn, duhn duuuuhn….”) My mother had already purchased Mary Ellen a nice new pair of tennis shoes before school started, so she really had no need for another pair, but alas, Mary Ellen was concerned about the brand and the look. So, we finished our jean shopping and headed to the shoe department. Sure enough, there they were, and Mary Ellen had to have a pair. Because they were not a necessity, Mary Ellen and I worked out a deal where she made a contribution toward the cost of the All-Stars, but what really bothered me was the fact that the Sauer off-brand streak had ended. At least it will work with Owen for a while…

I share that story with you to say this; our self-identity is very much driven by what the culture tells us is right, or good, or popular. It’s most obvious in pre-teens and teenagers with their concerns about brands of clothing and handheld devices, but there are adult versions of this epidemic, too. Society tells us that you’re a better person if you live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, use a certain kind of cell phone, and send your kids to the right private school. So we strive for these things, and if we can’t attain them all, then we always feel at least a little inadequate, maybe a little ashamed. So we keep trying, doing every little thing we can to raise our societal status.

We come this morning to some observational teaching by Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem. We heard this same scripture passage a couple of months ago, and we focused on the sacrificial gift of the widow. But this morning, I want us to consider Christ’s words about the legal experts. Now, the Scribes (as they are also known) were the crème-de-al-crème of ancient Israel’s religious society. This was a culture that was centered around its religion, and the Scribes were the religious experts. They were the authority on the Law, and the arbiters of religious practice. In theory, they were the advocates of the people. They were supposed to be the trusted leaders, worthy representatives, and hardworking civil servants. But in reality, Jesus tells us, it was much different. Because it seems, many of these powerful leaders wanted nothing more than to build on their power and clout.

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