Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; Psalm 131:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying -- The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.

The objects of the comments made by Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples are the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes in the time of Jesus were like religious intellectuals, theologians, and professional lawyers who are adept in applying the Law to everyday life. The Pharisees in the time of Jesus were like a fraternity of laymen who joined together to meticulously observed the law with great precision. Both groups already have been the object of ridicule by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew -- and this will not be the last of the verbal lashes that Jesus delivers.

One particular route that one might trace regarding the lineage of teaching authority to the chair of Moses in the time of Jesus may look like this: Moses to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, the chair of Moses is an image from which teaching authority comes. Some scholars also posit that the seat in the synagogue from which discourses were given was referred to as the chair of Moses. If the Pharisees and Scribes actually taught from this seat in the synagogue; then the words of Jesus could be taken literally -- they have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.

Nevertheless, the example that they give should be avoided; for their motives are seriously flawed.

For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on the shoulders of people, but they will not lift a finger to move them.

This stands in contrast to the words of Jesus -- my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation -- Rabbi

A few words about phylacteries, tassels, seating and greetings.

First, phylacteries: Both in Exodus (13:9) and in Deuteronomy (6:8; 11:18) are found commands by God to keep His Word or Law close. To obey this command a Jew, while praying, would wear what look like small leather boxes -- one strapped to the wrist -- one strapped to the forehead. Four scripture passages written on parchment could be found In the singe compartment box strapped to the wrist. The passages are from Exodus 13:1-10; Exodus 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21. The box that was strapped to the forehead contained four chambers -- each chamber housing one of the four aforementioned passages. In the time of Jesus it was not uncommon for the Pharisees to wear especially large phylacteries in order to draw attention to their obedience to the word and Law of God.

Second, tassels: In Deuteronomy (22:12) another sign is established by God to be a reminder of His Word and Law. Tassels or fringes were to be attached to the hems of the outer garment in its four corners to remind a Jew of his attachment to the commandments. Today these tassels or fringes can be found attached to prayer shawls. Similar to the large phylacteries, these tassels could be enlarged by the Pharisees in order to attract attention to their obedience and piety.

Third, seating: the seat of honor at any banquet would be on either side of the person hosting the banquet. In the synagogue the front seats actually faced the entire congregation much as the chair of the presider does in churches today. These were considered to be seats of honor and they would typically be reserved for the elders. Those individuals seated here were in clear view of the congregation and their actions and piety could be plainly observed.

Fourth, greetings: The Pharisees enjoyed being called Rabbi. It literally means -- my great one -- and it was a title of respect for Jewish teachers and leaders in the time of Jesus. Salutary etiquette demanded that the inferior always had the obligation to greet his superior. The longer the salutation or the more important the title used in the salutation, the more important the person.

As for you, do not be called -- Rabbi. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called Master; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Homily: I see a formula by which to live being formed by the Gospel of last week and this week. The Gospel of last week contained an encapsulation of all the commandments -- love God, love your neighbor. This is added to the exclusive ties from each one of us to God as The Father, and to Christ as The Teacher as stated above. For a good measure of protection against what has happened to the scribes and the Pharisees the last sentence of the Gospel this week is added into the formula -- humility.

I wish I could throw down some more thoughts in what is laughingly known as my mind, but I have had one of those weeks! Peace. Jim.

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