Summary: This is a sermon that focuses on what NOT to do as a Christian
Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“Serve to be Seen”
A story is told of a very wise turtle that wanted to spend the winter in Florida, but he knew he could never walk that far. So this very wise turtle convinced a couple of geese to help him, each taking one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vise-like jaws in the center. The flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, "Who in the world thought of that?" Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the turtle opened his mouth to shout, "I did--"
It’s so tempting to take credit for the good things we do. I mean… I learned early on in my marriage… that if I was going to clean out the dishwasher, to do it when Alyssa could see me doing it. You see… emptying out the dishwasher may indeed be a very good thing, but it helps to be seen doing it!
I know there are exceptions, but generally speaking… it goes against our nature to do things without getting the credit. Sure we’ll help someone out, sure we’ll lend that hand… but normally we want people to know that we did it. We want that glory… we want that warm feeling of someone REALLY appreciating us… we want people to KNOW just how good we are.
Maybe even worse yet, we may begin to keep track in our head. OK… I did this for so and so… now they are going to owe me something, and someday I will collect! Or if nothing else, someone will see my good deed and decide to reward me for my kindness. We begin to feel entitled… to have our good deeds noticed and rewarded.
It’s a state of thinking that can be seen clearly in our scripture this morning.
The Pharisees in our text are something of applause seekers themselves. We are told that they made their phylacteries wide for all to see. I mean… seriously… don’t we all prefer wide phylacteries?!? I’m waiting for someone to say, “Ok, I’ll bite… what’s a phylactery.” To be honest I had to go look it up. Turns out, that phylacteries were small leather boxes containing a piece of vellum inscribed with four sacred texts from the law usually worn prominently on the forehead. The bigger the phylactery… the holier you were!
So to show their piety to the world, these leaders made large, showy phylacteries and made their tassels ostentatiously long. The long tassels likewise showed that they were dutifully following the very letter of law.
So, when you were in the market shopping for your daily groceries and you saw one of the teachers walk by with a phylactery as big as small table mounted on his forehead… and tassels so long that they were in danger of being tripped on… you could look at the man and say… “Boy, he is really full of shhhhhhhinging examples for us to follow and learn from.”
Our scripture goes on… They love the reserved seats at the five star restaurants and they love having the very front pew reserved for their seating. That way everyone can see them attending worship and they get the best seat in the house. They love to be recognized in public and love to be called ‘Rabbi’ which means ‘Master!’ If there were paparazzi back then… surely they would follow the Pharisees around… at least the Phariesees would have wanted them to!
In some ways, you look at this text and it feels like Jesus is building us a straw man… someone SO despicable that everyone can see the folly of their ways. We look at their example and think to ourselves, “Who do they think they are kidding… right?” I mean… the depths that they go through to be seen are so huge that they have become completely transparent. So when Jesus calls them out because of it, sits you and I down… and says don’t be like this… we are like “Duh!”