Amos 8:1-14 Rev. 1:17-2:7 Matt. 23:1-12
We live in an age of debates won and lost on the turn of a well-timed phrase that cuts to the quick. Whether it is a presidential debate, or a thread on social media, or an epic rap battle, it isn’t always the most well thought-out rebuttal that changes minds, but the most memorable.
With Jesus, however, it is often both.
This section of Matthew comes after the Pharisees have tried repeatedly to trap Jesus. He has heard them try to twist his words, and has responded to each effort. But now comes his turn to question them. And in doing so he says three of the phrases most recognizable to even casual followers of Christianity.
First, with what to my ear sounds like dripping sarcasm, he says OF COURSE you must ‘do everything they tell you to do’ (emphasis mine) ‘but do not do as they do.’ Then he lands a line so perfect in its allusion and (translated) alliteration that I can’t help but imagine him in the cast of Hamilton: ‘They do not practice what they preach.’
Here is Jesus repositioning the expectation of authority for the next 2000 years. Prayer rituals need to move us all into action, which he reinforces with the third message: ‘those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Prayer rituals are not for self-exaltation, but for humble acts of service. The world is never the same again.
Lord, grant us the courage to receive your words, and the wisdom to know how to share them. Amen.
Listen to Eric read his Advent meditation and prayer: