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A Good Faith Example

scribesphariseesMatthew 23: 1-12
Introduction to the reading
Here he goes again, our Jesus, excoriating the religious leaders in front of the disciples and the crowds of people who have been following him. Jesus has had a running conflict with the scribes and Pharisees; they have confronted him repeatedly, asking questions to provoke and test him.

Jesus has had enough. Chapter 23 of Matthew is an extended denunciation of their religious leadership. These verses we hear today are just the beginning. The scribes and Pharisees hold great power over the people; theirs is a religion- based society, cultivated over centuries, beginning with Moses. Jesus challenges their authority in no uncertain terms as you will hear. The crowds are mesmerized by him; Jesus holds power among the people too.

The last verse of our reading is the key to what Jesus is preaching.

On the face of it, this Scripture passage from Matthew is a lesson in humility. The religious leaders suffer from the sin of pride and Jesus makes quite clear how they have gone wrong.

  • First, Jesus says, the basic problem with the scribes and Pharisees is not with what they teach; rather, it is what they do or fail to do. They laid heavy burdens on the people, myriads of rules and directives, a program so cumbersome no one could hope to adhere to it. In contrast, the “church” that is Matthew’s audience is hearing and learning from Jesus to take the law seriously but more simply: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Second, Jesus charges that the scribes and Pharisees were more interested in appearances than in performance, turning what was meant as a reminder of God’s law into some sort of fashion statement.
  • The third indictment is that the scribes and Pharisees consider themselves to be superior to others and they consistently pull rank. But Jesus’ followers are not to be concerned with rank and prestige. (Long 259-60) Everyone is a child of God. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:27.28)

Pride has no place in the Christian community.

Jesus reminds his followers, and therefore reminds us, that there is one teacher, one God the Father, one Messiah. This is what holds us together as a faith community. Furthermore, we are to be constantly seeking to live as God would have us live. This is the essence of the Ten Commandments and of the greatest commandment to love one another as God has loved us. Pride has no place when all of us are seeking after God.
There is no better expression of this than in the Beatitudes (“Blessed are those who, blessed are those, blessed are…”), especially, for today, the fourth one: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Filled with love, filled with a kind of holiness, filled with peace; not puffed up with self-importance, self-righteousness.

Today, the first Sunday in November, we mark as All Saints Sunday. We remember and give thanks for those persons from this congregation who have passed away, into life eternal. Only two names are listed this year, both from the Tiger family. Bernice Tiger Eppler passed away in January at the age of 92. She was the last of her generation. Margie Tiger died suddenly a month later. On Friday, her 68th birthday, her ashes were laid to rest in Union Cemetery.

Of these two Tigers, Margie was the one, I think, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness most obviously. She lived with demons, but her constant reading of Scripture and her prayers sustained her. We read Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh – my adversaries and foes – they shall stumble and fall.

I believe that everyone hungers and thirsts for righteousness. All too often, that seems to be self-righteousness, but even then, buried deep, I hope and pray that it is the desire and the need to be found acceptable and good in the eyes of God and thus to find meaning in the living of life.

How do people try to satisfy the hunger and thirst for holiness?

  • Some people come to church. Many cannot; many simply do not, for whatever reason. Do they find other ways to worship/
  • Some people dwell upon nature, God’s created world, in awe, in appreciation, in preservation.
  • Some people read and study Scripture, on their own or in a Bible study. They listen, they converse with God’s Word.
  • Some people give – money, time, effort – to the church or through the church; to worthy causes that are personally important; to organizations that support healthy community life.
  • Some people serve others with compassion and love - in their professions or in what they do as volunteers.
  • Some people discover their hunger when they face tribulation, sorrow, loss or a sense of their own mortality.

God sees all of this.

Soon we will celebrate, once again, the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The table of the Lord is made ready for those who love God and for those who want to love him more, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. All are welcome here. They will be filled.

Long, Thomas G. Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
November 5, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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