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.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
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.’
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.”
This part of Matthew’s gospel is set in Jerusalem, far from the quiet hills of Galilee. As Jesus and his disciples come into the hostile city, they’re confronted by its leaders and therefore, in this passage. Jesus instructs his disciples how to deal with a world that’s pitted against them.
High-ranking priests and temple authorities controlled almost everything in that city then. Later the pharisees became the leading authorities in Judaism and, anticipating the future, the evangelist sees them as the main adversaries of Jesus and his disciples.
In unfriendly Jerusalem, where he would go to his death, Jesus tells his disciples to remember their teacher. His message is meant for us too.
We may not live in Jerusalem under a religious elite, but we live in a society that shapes us more than we know. Our elites are of another kind–who love honors and privileges too, and like being seen. We imagine ourselves free, yet we face steady pressure from so much around us to turn from the teachings of the gospel.
“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example,” Jesus says to his disciples in Jerusalem. They’re not to leave the challenging world they live in; they’re to be “the light of the world.” They’re to engage their time, but not follow its lead. They have their Teacher.
Neither should we to turn from our world. We’re to shed light on it too, and we will, if we listen to Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to turn to our one Teacher.