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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Exalted

Matthew 23.1-12


For a few weeks now, we have heard about the Pharisees. Some of the Pharisees live good lives, but some of them try to cause problems for Jesus. Jesus does not fall into their traps. He sees what they do. He sees what they mean. In the Gospel for this Sunday, he tells us what he sees.

Jesus says,

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it;

Jesus knows that the Pharisees study scripture to find good ways to live. Their job is to teach people what they find. Jesus tells the people that they can safely follow what the Pharisees teach. What they say is good because it comes from scripture.

But do people teach only by what they say?

When we learn a sport, we watch the coach show us how.

When we learn to bake, we watch a cook show us how.

When we learn to multiply, we watch the teacher show us how.

They teach by what they do. We learn because we do what they do.

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

But Jesus says,

but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

Uh-oh. The Pharisees say the truth, but they do not do the truth. They teach with their words only. Their actions do not match their words. Can we trust people like that?

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

What does Jesus mean? Does he mean that the Pharisees fill packs with heavy rocks and tie them to people's shoulders? Maybe not. But certainly we can tell that these Pharisees make life difficult for people. They make things worse; they do not help to make life easier. We do not want to be around these people.

They do all their deeds to be seen by others...

So...the Pharisees are show-offs, too!

They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

What can we say about them now? They want people to look at them and think they are better than everyone else. They believe they are more important than everyone else. They lift themselves up high above everyone else. We have a name for what they do. The Pharisees exalt themselves.

Does Jesus think the Pharisees are better than everyone else?

Does Jesus believe they are more important than everyone else?

Does it impress Jesus that they lift themselves high above everyone else?

It does not. He says,

you have one teacher, and you are all students.

The Pharisees and everyone else, together as students.

you have one Father—the one in heaven.

The Pharisees and everyone else, together as children of God the Father.

you have one instructor, the Messiah.

The Pharisees and everyone else, together instructed by the Messiah—by Jesus himself. Jesus places all the people on the same level.

And then he says something strange:

The greatest among you will be your servant.

The greatest? If Jesus places them all on the same level, how can one be the greatest? Which one is greatest if Jesus places them all on the same level, having one teacher, one Father in heaven, one instructor who is the Messiah himself...

Oh. That one.

Jesus himself.

Jesus himself, although he is the greatest, becomes their servant. He washes their feet. He gives everything he has—his body and blood—his time, his life—so that they might have life and have it abundantly. Although he is the greatest, he makes himself lower than everyone else. We have a name for what he does. Jesus humbles himself.

And he says,

All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Those who lift themselves high like the Pharisees do, will be made low.

Those who make themselves low like Jesus does, will be lifted high.


Yes. His words and actions match.

Jesus is lifted high on the cross and then on the third day, God the Father lifts him to new life, never to die again.

Abundant life.

Eternal life.

The best.

The highest.

And he shares that life with us. Even at his highest, he reaches down low to us so that we may be exalted, too.

We have the greatest teacher, the greatest Father in heaven, the greatest instructor who is the Messiah, the one who humbles himself for us.

No wonder we sing, Glory to God in the highest!

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