Day 197: Matthew 23:6-12

They love the best places at feasts and the reserved seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them ‘Teacher.’  You must not be called ‘Teacher,’ because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.

And you must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father,’ because you have only the one Father in heaven.

Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great.

[Throughout Chapter 23 Jesus delivers a long and detailed critique of the religious institution and practices of Jesus’ day.  In this section I look at my own very subjective perceptions of today’s Christian practices and see how I think they measure up according to the words of Jesus.] 

So in this scripture Jesus says that he disapproves of privileges and titles.  When I see that first part about how the religious leaders love to have the best seats, I’m reminded of Day 175 when the disciples were so worried about getting good throne position next to Jesus in the New Age.  People today still like to get good seats. I appreciate a front row seat, not because I want to impress other people but because I am short.  I think it could be a rule that short people get priority seating near the front because they are vertically challenged.

In today’s churches there aren’t any reserved seats and most people seem to like to sit in the back, not the front.  It’s a joke that in some churches all of the regulars like to sit on the aisles and make the new people crawl over them to get to the vacant seats in the center. They say it’s more hospitable to sit in the center.  I sit on the aisle, in the front.  Jesus would probably say I could do better.  On the other hand, I go to the 8:00 service and there aren’t very many people there so it probably doesn’t make much difference.

My husband is a retired pastor.  He never makes a big deal about it and certainly doesn’t expect any special privileges.  Sometimes when we visit certain old-fashioned churches they let him sit up front on the platform in a special chair when they find out he’s a pastor.  He gets a kick out of that.  Back in the 1950s and 1960s when John was a young man, the City of Chicago gave pastors a couple of special privileges.  The only thing that my husband really liked was the Cubs ticket perk.  Back in the day he used to get free Cubs tickets and it was a big disappointment when they discontinued that practice.  When we went to Cubs games together he always seemed to think he shouldn’t have to pay.  That’s what happens when you give people free stuff.  They get upset if you stop.

Next, Jesus talks about titles.  He doesn’t like them.  He calls himself the Son of Man, which means an ordinary person (Day 74).  He doesn’t call himself Teacher, Father, Leader, Rabbi, Prophet, Son of God, Messiah, Emmanuel, Lamb of God, Christ or anything like that.  Just Son of Man.

As for teacher, he says that we are all equal and have only one Teacher.”  Wow.  I think Jesus is saying that God is the God of all and we all have our unique relationship with him.  We all have our own experiences, our own view of life.  And so, we all so we all have something to teach each other.   We are all have something to say.  Gandhi would agree:

Religious diversity

Whether or not they express them, everyone has their own unique set of beliefs.  People may go along with the teachings of a particular church or denominations, but in reality they have their own ideas that have nothing to do with what they are supposed to believe.  I like to talk to people over the years and I have found this to be true.  I find it fascinating.

When it comes to today’s churches, I’m not sure we do so well on this one.  The church institution tries to indoctrinate people to have certain views, and people pretend to agree even when they really do not.  Pastors do most of the speaking on Sunday morning and carefully screen any other voices.  Bible study materials are developed up by experts or teachers within the church to promote a certain theological viewpoint or denominational agenda.  I think Jesus would like small groups.  In a good small group people tend to be a lot more honest and the emphasis is on sharing what’s on your mind.  Everyone’s opinion is respected and everyone is encouraged to speak.  Even though churches still get pretty low marks on this, small groups fare pretty well.

I remember my shock when I read the next Jesus’ teaching about the use of the word “Father.”  Why in the world do the Catholics call their religious leaders “Father” when Jesus specifically says not to do this?  Talk about perverse.  It really makes you wonder if they actually read the words of Jesus.  I guess they think it’s a smorgasbord from which they can pick and choose.  I don’t think they should make up new rules until they start obeying the old ones.  Protestants got rid of this practice of calling their pastors “Father” after the Reformation.  Good for them.

I’ve never heard of a church where someone is called “Leader,” but almost all churches do indeed have a paid leader.  There are a few like the Amish and the Quakers who rotate their leadership among a group of elders, but they are the exception to the rule. Catholics have “Priests” that they address as “Father.”  When I was young they called the paid Protestant leaders “Ministers” and addressed them as “Reverend.”  Today “Pastor” seems to be the popular term for both the office and term of address.  The root meaning of this word is “shepherd,” someone who cares for and serves the sheep.  In this scripture Jesus says the greatest must serve the humble so this is definitely a change in the right direction.

In some old-fashioned churches there are various titles for unpaid members – like “Deacon”, “Apostle”, “Prophet”, etc.  I don’t think Jesus would like any of these titles.  I think he would approve of the practice of referring to each other as “Brother” or “Sister”, but only if it is used for everyone universally and not just among church members.  I think he would probably prefer for us to just call each other by name and ditch all the titles.

As for the Messiah part, I addressed that on Day 145.  It’s a pretty sketchy business.

I love this scripture.  It’s so egalitarian.  And it’s not just about titles and privileges. We are not bound to follow the teachings of any specific person or any particular church.  Until the Messiah comes (or Jesus returns) we are not supposed to assign any single person with the burden of leadership.  We are all on an equal footing when it comes to spiritual matters.  We all know something about life.  We all know something about our little corner of the universe.  No one person’s words or teachings should be regarded as inerrant.  No one is an expert because spirituality is unique for everyone.

We can learn something about God from everyone we meet – Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Animists, Hindus, Atheists, everyone.  All ages. Past, present, and future.  Everyone has their own unique relationship with God so we are all have something to teach each other.   Even the most humble among us.  Especially the most humble.  If we really want to learn about God we need to seek out the opinions of the humblest among us and take them very seriously.

What does this scripture say to you?

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