Two Contrasting Ways: The Pharisees and Jesus’ Disciples

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 23, Jesus follows a series of attacking questions from religious leaders with a scorching critique of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” (Matthew 23:1-7)

There are three main claims that Jesus makes against these religious leaders. First of all, they are inconsistent (23:3), saying one thing and doing another. Second of all, they burden people (23:4). Their teaching is like burdensome loads on people’s shoulders and they don’t lift a finger to help. This is in dramatic contrast with Jesus’ own words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). Third, these teachers of the Law and Pharisees are concerned with appearances and reputation (23:5-6). They focus on what they wear as a sign of religiosity and seek out places of honor in the synagogue and other religious gatherings.

Unfortunately, these figures have lost the point of what relationship with God is all about. The Pharisees were known to give minute attention to the Law of God to a point of detail that they had become legalistic and over-scrupulous in Jesus’ day.  In a sense, they seem full of life, but their life is more truly marked by missing the point, a sort of spiritual death.

Jesus offers a stark contrast between these ways of the Pharisees and the way of Jesus’ disciples.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)

Jesus disciples take a different way. They are called to shun titles and the praise of people (23:8-10). While Jesus singles out the titles “Rabbi,” “Father,” and “Instructor,” these are not the only forms such pride could take. Any title can become a source of pride: Pastor, Elder, Teacher, Council member, Usher, Bible Study or small group leader…you name it, and the human heart can turn it into something to be prideful about. As John Calvin said, “the human heart is a perpetual idol factory.” On the positive, Jesus’ disciples are to follow Jesus’ humble path (23:11-12). Jesus was a humble servant, as most powerfully described in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus did not grasp ahold of glory for His own use and advantage, but emptied Himself in order to take on human life. As a human, He lived humbly in the form of a servant even to death on a Cross. He became a servant to bring us to God.

Jesus’ way of life – what we call discipleship or Christian formation – is marked by a lively humility that is quite unlike the deathly way of the religious leaders. 

The Weekend Wanderer: 26 March 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles


127791“The Stunning Humility of God” – Fernando Ortega in Christianity Today: “Many times I’ve stared at Titian’s famous painting “Christ on the Way to Calvary,” which depicts Simon of Cyrene as he helped Jesus carry the cross up the hill to Golgotha. In the painting, it looks as though there is some kind of communication happening between the two—Christ sorrowfully glancing up over his left shoulder and Simon gazing down with kindness at the face of Jesus. What would I have said were I in Simon’s shoes? Maybe it would have been something along the lines of ‘Ah, holy Jesus, how have you offended, that mortal judgement has on you descended.’  The other day, as I was driving my 12-year-old daughter Ruby to school, we saw a weather-beaten woman sitting at the top of the freeway exit, begging for money in the Albuquerque sun. I said to Ruby, ‘That’s Jesus right there.’ ‘What do you mean?’ she asked. I explained how Christ continually identified himself with the downtrodden and marginalized in the world—with beggars, lepers, tax collectors, harlots, thieves—with the ‘least of these,’ according to the society of his day. She still looked at me quizzically. Thrilled to have gained her attention on the subject, I said, ‘The humility of God is a pearl of great beauty in this desolate world.'”


623afa7e567af_humanrightscouncilCropped“Since summer 2021, ‘thousands of Afghans who espoused the Christian faith are hiding in fear'” – Evangelical Focus – Europe: “The Geneva office of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) was present in the 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The evangelical body representing 600 million Christian worldwide has been working for a long time in the issue of religious freedom for faith minorities. Addressing the situation of Afghanistan, the WEA alarmed on 8 March in a joint statement with the Baptist World Alliance and The Jubilee Campaign that ‘religious minorities in Afghanistan are threatened. Thousands of Afghans who espoused the Christian faith are hiding in fear since August of last year.’ They called on the Office of the High Commissioner for human Rights to ‘closely monitor’ the situation or religious minorities. ‘We look forward to working with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. We recommend to maintain a strong human rights pillar of the United Nations Assistance Mission to support the Special Rapporteur in continued monitoring of human rights, specifically women and minorities rights.'”


RNSHILLSONGABUSE101714“Hillsong pastor Brian Houston resigns after revelations of indiscretions with women” – Roxanne Stone at Religion News Service: “Less than a week after the Hillsong board released a statement revealing its cofounder, Brian Houston, had sent inappropriate text messages to a staff member and spent time in a woman’s hotel room, the board of the global megachurch has announced the longtime global senior pastor has resigned. In a statement posted on its website Wednesday (March 23), the board said it had accepted Houston’s resignation and acknowledged ‘there will be much emotion at this news.’ Houston, 68, a New Zealand native, founded Hillsong Church with his wife Bobbie in the suburbs of Sydney in 1983. The Pentecostal powerhouse now boasts 30 locations around the world, with an average global attendance of 150,000 weekly. Hillsong’s music program has produced some of the most popular worship songs used in evangelical churches around the world, including ‘Oceans,’ ‘What a Beautiful Name,’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.'”


medicalgraphembed“Will Technology Enhance or Deplete Relationships?” – Matthew Loftus in Plough Quarterly: “If you’ve been to the doctor’s office lately, you probably only had the good fortune to look into your doctor’s eyes for a few seconds in a brief respite between her feverish note-taking on a swivel screen. In the past decade, all medical practitioners in the United States have been forced to switch from paper charts to electronic medical records (EMRs), a technology designed primarily for the purposes of billing. EMRs give little added value to clinicians, and they don’t help patients very much either; they increase medical professionals’ workload, while decreasing their face-to-face time with patients. These systems have been imposed with little care for their impact on the practice of healthcare. I work in a hospital in East Africa, and the EMRs we use there are much like those used in the Baltimore hospital where I completed my residency, only less functional. In the country where I serve, politicians run campaigns promising “a laptop for every child in school” when many of these same children do not have running water at home. There is a painful irony in this mindless celebration of technology. Tamara Winter describes this phenomenon as ‘mimetic misdirection,’ a stubborn belief that the accoutrements of successful development (highways, flashy buildings, digital technology) will be the means by which a country will be uplifted. Suckered by the promise of progress, administrators in hospitals where electricity is unreliable and computers are scarce have bought the lie that an EMR is better than a paper system, and have installed a ‘solution’ that creates more problems than it solves.”


Jewish Minyan“Jews say making daylight saving time permanent threatens morning prayer” – Michele Chabin at Religion News Service: “American Jews say they were blindsided by the U.S. Senate’s lightning-fast passage of a bill to make daylight saving time year-round and intend to fight it. The Sunshine Protection Act, which passed the Senate on March 15, will make it nearly impossible for Jews to pray communally in the morning, Jewish advocates say, and still get to work or school on time during the winter months. According to Jewish law, morning prayers must take place after the sun rises. Daylight saving time, which currently begins on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November, extends darkness on late-winter mornings. ‘It will affect our religious life, our professional life and our family life,’ said Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president for government affairs for Agudath Israel of America. ‘If congregational and personal prayers begin after 8 in the morning, how will people get to work at 9 a.m. or earlier?'”


rubble-demolished-building-construction-waste-37283447“Some Parts of Evangelicalism Do Not Need To be Deconstructed … They Need To Be Destroyed!” – Michael F. Bird in Word from the Bird: “Jonathan Leeman – a nice guy I’ve interacted with – has an article on Defending Sound Doctrine Against the Deconstruction of American Evangelicalism over at 9Marks. In a nutshell, Leeman rejects the complaint that Christian doctrine, evangelical doctrine, is culturally conditioned and self-interested. Some people, realizing this situatedness and self-interest have been led to question, doubt, re-think, and ‘deconstruct’ their faith. Now, deconstruction is the latest fad, and deconstructing can mean leaving evangelicalism for liturgical churches or else leaving the Christian faith altogether. I have mixed feelings about this. First, I believe in evangelical doctrine, but…we need to be very self-aware of how much of our theology is truly biblical and catholic and how much of our theology is a product of our own perspective, position, and the prevailing philosophy of the day…. Second, some people are wrestling with doubt, regret, and wondering if their whole faith was tied to their social location, inheriting a conservative culture from their parents, a faith that made use of Jesus rather than actually following Jesus.”


Music:Alister Fawnwoda, Suzanne Ciani, Greg Leisz, “Leopard Complex,” from Milan

Learning to be Silent :: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Tower of Babel”

Pieter Brueghel - Tower of Babel.jpg
Pieter Bruegel, De bouw van de toren van Babel; oil on panel; 1563.

Sin and temptation are funny things. They often disguise themselves in respectability and inventiveness that catch us off-guard at the last minute. Genesis 11 tells the story of a community’s effort to construct a great tower at a time when humanity shared common speech. The vision statement for the project was: “Building a tower to heaven to make our name great” (see Genesis 11:4). T-shirts and coffee mugs with the vision statement emblazoned on them were distributed all over town and the project commenced with great zeal. The only problem was that this effort was one more in a string of typical human aims to displace God and put humanity in His place. God will have none of it and stops everything before it reaches conclusion. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting shows the colossal effort involved in this project. The architecture intentionally reflects that of the Roman Colosseum, reminding the viewer that both Rome and Babylon were biblical cities representing prideful humanity’s stance against God. Already in the painting we can see some arches beginning to crumble. The tower’s construction cannot hold together architecturally just as pride in communities and individuals pulls against itself, ending in collapse. We’re told in Genesis that God set out to “confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (11:7). This may sounds harsh until we realize just how disastrously far human brokenness and sin can go when gathered together around collective endeavors. We read about it in our history books and today’s news: war and hatred, greed and emptiness, repression and injustice. The journey of Lent reminds us that this is not only true in history and in the news, but also in us. Lent teaches us to lay our pride down and learn to be quiet–even silent–before God.

A Prayer of Bowing Down at the Beginning of the Day

The LORD is gracious and merciful
long-suffering, and of great kindness.
The LORD is loving to everyone,
and his mercy is over all his works.”
(Psalm 145:8-9, Coverdale)

I bow down, O LORD, before You
that You might raise me up again into this day.
I bow down my desires and my goals,
my dreams and my pursuits.
I bow down my fears and confusion,
my stumbling blocks and temptations.
I bow down my marriage and my parenting,
my friendships and my aloneness.
I bow down my job and my leisure,
my tasks and my spare time.

I bow all myself down before You, O LORD,
that You might raise me up again.

Raise me up in Your grace and truth,
in Your way and Your life.
Raise me out of the old, false self
and into the new, true, undivided self.
Raise me into the enduring peace of Your presence
and the steadfast love of Your being.
Raise me into the shadow of the Cross
and the brilliance of the open tomb.

As I bow down, O Lord, raise me up this day
that I might walk in life with You.

The Greatest Must Be a Servant: Jesus’ Way of Leading

“Jesus called [His disciples] together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

How do we connect Jesus’ words on greatness with many of the current prescriptions on leadership today? For Jesus, greatness and being first means:

  • Being a servant of those around
  • Being a slave of all
  • Giving our lives for others

Does this mean not leading, or not exercising authority, or not wanting positions of power? Is it about power or about the approach to power?

Clearly, Jesus led others. He taught. He rebuked those who needed it. He set His agenda for ministry (in concert with the Father). Jesus was a leader, but His way of leading and exercising power was, to cite someone else’s wording, ‘downwardly mobile’. He focused on His Father’s agenda. He was often interrupted by people while working toward another goal.

For Jesus, leadership was all about following the Father and His will, and laying down His life for others as a servant.

What about us in the church today? Do we emulate Jesus’ model today or do we look to other pathways toward greatness?