Who are you teaching for?

In Matthew 23, Jesus is laying into the Pharisees, the religious leadership of his time. This week we’ll look at that critique as a mirror. If you don’t want to be known for what Jesus criticizes, don’t do it.

One question is simple: “Who are you teaching for?”

The right answer, of course, would be “the students” or “society” or “God”. Painful but honest answers could be “my parents” or “the money”.

Jesus gives another answer for the Pharisees: “Everything they do is done for men to see.”

How can we tell  how who we are doing what we are doing for? Here are some questions (learned the hard way).

  • How much does it matter to me what people call me?
  • How much does it matter to me how often people call me?
  • How much do we work on our Sunday school lessons when no one is watching?
  • How concerned are we that when we choose to sit in the back of the room (because Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for sitting in the front of the room) no one mentions our humility and asks us to move up?
  • How careful am I to wear the right kind of establishment-challenging kind of clothing (because one doesn’t want to fall into the trap of wearing the establishment tassels and phylacteries)?
  • How often do we get caught in flattering someone so that they notice us and reach down from their high position and bring us up?
  • How often do we think about what anyone thinks about our religiosity or spirituality?
  • How often do we let anyone else be right?
  • How often do we think that letting everyone else be right makes us better that everyone else?

You may be fine with this test. Not everyone has issues with public pride. Just some of us.

Looking Back – October 19 – 23

Nice words from not nice people

We want to hear nice things about us. We want to know that people find us wise. We love to be loved.

Sometimes nice words aren’t nice. Sometimes nice words are the fresh cheese in a mousetrap, the sweet fruit laced with poison, the flattery before the knife in the ribs, the empty kisses.

What matters to you

Jesus, being the smartest person who ever lived, knew exactly what they were trying to do, why they were trying to trap him, and how to craft an answer that left them questioning their own beliefs.

Here’s the lesson for those who would follow him. It isn’t about being crafty in our answers to other people. It is this: what do the questions we keep asking Jesus tell us about our own biases, our own areas that we want to protect?

Watching a master

There are times that Jesus is involved in conversations with people, convictions with people, demonstrations with people to which I have nothing to contribute.

The best thing at these times, I’m convinced, is to sit back and watch.

Sometimes the most spiritual thing to do is nothing.

It really is quite simple

If Jesus came to fulfill the law, then he has kept this command. His life shows loving God completely and loving your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps the study is a simple as looking at how Jesus lived.

Rather than figuring out the edges of what counts, just love God and others.

Do what they say, not what they do

Any time we pile rule upon rule beyond the simple commands of Jesus, we are creating religion where he intends relationship.

But for everyone who has wept for fear of not measuring up, he offers hope beyond imagination, he offers relief.

Do what they say, not what they do.

The Pharisees spent a chapter asking questions. They seemed to care. It was artifice. They were trying to trick Jesus. They couldn’t. They quit asking him questions.

He didn’t need their questions to give them answers, however. Jesus spends chapter 23 of Matthew critiquing every aspect of their behavior, the very behavior they believed made them special. He deliberately works his way through every practice, showing them more of their hearts than they dreamed possible.

And his language is far from the neutral, loving language we expect from Jesus. Everyone who looks at religious leaders and calls them hypocrites has to get in line behind Jesus who says that seven times. Everyone who calls religious gathering places quiet as a tomb was topped by Jesus calling the leaders themselves whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. Everyone who has cursed the irresponsibility of religious leaders is echoing Jesus who called them “sons of hell”. Snakes, vipers, blind guides…the imagery Jesus uses is rich and devastating.

Why is he worked up?

Because he cares so passionately about the people who are trying to live up to the behavioral expectations of people who completely neglected the attitude (and the relationship) the behaviors were meant to express.

So when we talk about righteous indignation, this is what it looks like. This is what where it comes from.

He will be offering himself as a ransom for the very people being held hostage by these rule-bound holiest-of-all sanctimonious spotlight-seeking religious people.

Like I am capable of being. And so are you. Any time we pile rule upon rule beyond the simple commands of Jesus, we are creating religion where he intends relationship.

But for everyone who has wept for fear of not measuring up, he offers hope beyond imagination, he offers relief.

Thank you, Jesus.

it really is quite simple

The legal experts asked the law writer which law was most important.

That’s what happened in Matthew 22:35-40.

To answer, Jesus combines two commands from the Old Testament, a first-century mashup. The first, quoted from Deuteronomy, says Love God completely. It’s not a negative command (“don’t do this”), it’s a positive command (“do this”.) With every way that you can, love God.

The second command, from Leviticus, says to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

“But what do I do to love God?”
“But I don’t love myself very much.”
“But who is my neighbor?”
“But how much is loving God with all my heart?”
“But I can’t love God, I’m not sure he even exists. “

There are a huge number of questions. There are tons of books, millions of sermons. The Great Commandment, as this has been called, or the Jesus Creed, as Scot McKnight describes it, is often linked to the Great Commission which we will consider at the end of Matthew.

Why would Jesus identify as core something that raises so much challenge for understanding?

1. If this is the greatest commandment, it is worth all the study that it would take. Jesus says that the law and the prophets hang on these two hooks. All the teachings of the Old Testament are here. So devoting a lifetime to sorting out what matters is more worthwhile than devoting a lifetime to sorting out Skittles.

2. If Jesus came to fulfill the law, which he says, then he has kept this command. His life shows loving God completely and loving your neighbor as yourself. So perhaps the study is a simple as looking at how Jesus lived.

3. If it is this important, then maybe we overcomplicate. Rather than figuring out the edges of what counts. just love God and others.

watching a master

The whole point of 300wordsaday.com is considering what following Jesus looks like.  We’ve walked through most of 22 chapters of Matthew already (and some other territory). We’ve watched his followers (the disciples) do stuff and listen to stuff and argue about stuff.

I was fully prepared to look at chapter 22 and talk about the disciples.

I can’t find them.

It’s not like they are missing (no need for an APB), but they are not mentioned in this chapter.

Jesus is doing stellar argument and storytelling (we’ve been looking at that for the last couple weeks). People keep walking away amazed and astonished and angry. But there is no evidence of anything from the disciples.

I may be making something out of the nothing that’s here.

But I don’t think so.

It’s Jesus’ last week. He’s heading toward being killed. He’s teaching, yes, but he’s engaging people on a larger stage, speaking directly to people who are trying to trap him.

This is out of the disciple’s league. In this chapter, they aren’t being asked to do anything but watch. There is nothing they have the capacity to do.

This may still be true. Although I am frequently involved in trying to fix things, to be wise, to have ideas, there are many conversations and situations that are out of my league, that are best out of my hands. There are times that I am invited to do nothing, to wait, to be still, to just watch. There are times that Jesus is involved in conversations with people, convictions with people, demonstrations with people to which I have nothing to contribute.

The best thing at these times, I’m convinced, is to sit back and watch. To be amazed, too.

Sometimes the most spiritual thing to do is nothing.

Just watch the Master.