Scripture Reading Matthew 23:1-12
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people 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 with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, 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 instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus talks about the Pharisees and their strict observance of religion. How did they became this way. To understand them better, we need to go back in time.
The Jews were a people set apart with to their belief in one God and their observance of the law. God gave Moses the Law, who gave it to Joshua, who gave it to the elders, the elders gave it to the prophets and it was passed down by the priests to pthe Pharisees who gave it to the people. Therefore they stood in the place of Moses as teachers of the law.
The law was first written in the time of David and Solomon from about 1000 BC. The 10 tribes broke away from the northern kingdom of Samaria during the time of King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Only tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained in the Southern Kingdom. The Northern kingdom was invaded by Assyria, (Sargon and Sennacherib) and the people carried off into exile in 740 BC. The Southern kingdom was invaded by the Babylonianians in 604 -586 BC. After this, the priests studied and reinterpreted the law of Moses in the light of the disaster and wrote the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, to ensure that people kept the law of the Lord, so that this disaster may never come upon them. There was the return from Exile in 450BC and the dedication of the Law to ensure that people understood and kept the law.
The Pharisees took the Study of the law to a whole new level, particularly after, when Antiochus Epiphanes tried to destroy the Jewish religion in 175BC by introducing the Greek religion. He introduced the sacrifice of pigs and set up an idol of Zeus in the temple. This was what was called the abomination that causes desolation.
In response to this, the Pharisees emphasized keeping themselves separate and wrote down and obeyed the letter of the law in order to preserve it. That is how they became purists, regarding the law.
William Barclay writes this of the Pharisees: ‘The Pharisees then were two things. First, they were dedicated legalists; religion to them was the observance of every detail of the Law. But second–and this is never to be forgotten–they were men in desperate earnest about their religion, for no one would have accepted the impossibly demanding task of living a life like that unless he had been in the most deadly earnest. They could, therefore, develop at one and the same time all the faults of legalism and all the virtues of complete self-dedication. A Pharisee might either be a desiccated or arrogant legalist, or a man of burning devotion to God.’ http://www.studylight.com
According to William Barclay, The Talmud described seven kinds of Pharisees:
There was the Shoulder Pharisee. He was meticulous in his observance of the Law; but he wore his good deeds upon his shoulder. He was out for a reputation for purity and goodness. True, he obeyed the Law, but he did so in order to be seen of men.
There was the Wait-a-little Pharisee. He was the Pharisee who could always produce an entirely valid excuse for putting off a good deed. He professed the creed of the strictest Pharisees but he could always find an excuse for allowing practice to lag behind. He spoke, but he did not do.
There was the Bruised or Bleeding Pharisee. The Talmud speaks of the plague of self-afflicting Pharisees. These Pharisees received their name for this reason. Women had a very low status in Palestine. No really strict orthodox teacher would be seen talking to a woman in public, even if that woman was his own wife or sister. These Pharisees went even further; they would not even allow themselves to look at a woman on the street. In order to avoid doing so they would shut their eyes, and so bump into walls and buildings and obstructions. They thus bruised and wounded themselves, and their wounds and bruises gained them a special reputation for exceeding piety.
There was the Pharisee who was variously described as the Pestle and Mortar Pharisee, or the Hump-backed Pharisee, or the Tumbling Pharisee. Such men walked in such ostentatious humility that they were bent like a pestle in a mortar or like a hunch-back. They were so humble that they would not even lift their feet from the ground and so tripped over every obstruction they met. Their humility was a self-advertising ostentation.
There was the Ever-reckoning or Compounding Pharisee. This kind of Pharisee was for ever reckoning up his good deeds; he was for ever striking a balance sheet between himself and God, and he believed that every good deed he did put God a little further in his debt. To him religion was always to be reckoned in terms of a profit and loss account.
There was the Timid or Fearing Pharisee. He was always in dread of divine punishment. He was, therefore, always cleansing the outside of the cup and the platter, so that he might seem to be good. He saw religion in terms of judgment and life in terms of a terror-stricken evasion of this judgment.
Finally, there was the God-fearing Pharisee; he was the Pharisee who really and truly loved God and who found his delight in obedience to the Law of God, however difficult that it might be. Of the seven, six were all about the show, only one truly delighted in God’s law and in obedience.
Leadership is a form of service. The purpose of a leader is to provide a vision, guidance, direction, to motivate and encourage people to do great things and be great.
The Pharisees were leaders in Israel. They played a every important role, to bring people closer to God, through teaching them to obey the law as an act of love for God. They failed, because their leadership was self-serving. Matthew 15:8-9 says, ‘these people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ Jesus condemned them, because their obedience to the law was not out of love for God, for the most part.
Jesus deplores the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word: hupocrites which means to wear a mask and play a role. It was all an act, all for show. So he says do as they say, i.e. Obey the law, but, not as they do, i.e. to make a great show of their obedience. Jesus encourages the disciples to be humble and serve each other. He illustrates this by washing their feet. He led by example, and performed miracles and taught the word out of love for God, not to be seen by men. He continued in his service unto death, even when his disciples had abandoned him. He was genuine, not playing a role.
There is a lot of talk about leadership these days. But there is a growing recognition of effective leadership as being a role that serves a purpose. If we bring it back to our country, we lack leadership in business and in politics and even in some churches, because the actions of the leadership are self -serving. We have leaders who:
o Want to be rich and live lavishly at all costs
o Are prepared to subvert justice and bend the law in pursuit of power and wealth to keep their ill-gotten gains,
o Persecute those who speak out against them
o Love the limelight, always posting on social media
o They spout ideology, anti-crime, anti-corruption, etc. Lots of talk, no action, so they do not practice what they preach.
King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the Sun. Even in Old Testament times, priests were expected to serve God and their to lead the people. The Lord killed both of Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas because they abused their positions as priests. When Eli died, he was replaced by Samuel. Samuel was tireless in his service.
What God desires is obedience, not sacrifice (1 Samuel 15.22) and service to others out of love. Do nothing out of selfish ambition. Consider others better than yourself (Philippians 2.3)
True leadership is an act of service, to God and to Men. If you are in a position of leadership, ask yourself whom are you serving?
If you want people to follow you, you must serve them, Jesus does so much for people. As a result huge crowds followed him. How does your leadership serve the purpose of God. How does it serve those whom you lead? I encourage all of us to model our leadership according to the pattern of Jesus Christ and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us . Let us pray for all our leaders to be authentic and humble, to have a sevant’s heart and a teachable spirit, subject to the authority of God. Only then can we live in peace and prosperity in harmony with God and with each other.