Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Lectionary Reading: Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)
"Do as I say, not as I do."
Later, when the children are teenagers, they may call out other behavior that seems especially hypocritical. It seems the best instruction is from a person with the integrity to live out their beliefs.
Jesus seems to be the first on record of saying this although it was surely not original with him. I observe this because hypocrisy didn't originate in the first century but has been around as long as there have been human beings.
Matthew's gospel has a strong theme against hypocrisy running throughout.
Jesus states in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:1:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Jesus goes on in this sermon to point out how three spiritual disciplines of the day were misused: charitable giving, public prayer and fasting. He indicates that if we are doing them to enhance our social standing before others, then we are doing them wrong.
He returns to this idea in Sunday's reading. The phylacteries were the containers of the Shema that Jewish people were commanded to display. Evidently, the Pharisees were making theirs ornate as a gross display of their piety. The fringes were displayed on the prayer shawl of a teacher and were commanded from Numbers 15:38:
Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner.
Jesus must have also worn this as a rabbi as we saw earlier in Matthew 9:20:
Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak,
But the length of the fringes must have also been a way to show one's holiness - at least outwardly. It may have been accepted by the people of that day as a sign of one's devotion to God. Jesus is more interested in how we practice what we preach. He deflects the title of teacher seemingly because he doesn't want his disciples to fall into the same trap of seeking after honor as the Pharisees. Instead, Jesus wants his followers to be life-long learners.
To adopt this attitude does take some humility. What does it mean to accept that we do not know everything? That we still have things to learn?
I hope that I will continue to learn my entire life. I hope that I have the humility to learn from all of those around me. I hope that I can avoid the hypocrisy that sometimes plagues us as human beings. I'll try to do as I say!
Photo by Trish Gussler via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.
All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.