Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 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. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor 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. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
There is a wonderful story of a peasant woman who stole into the village church each day, sat on the back pew for several moments, then left. She did not kneel, or use the prayer book, or even close her eyes. One day, perplexed by her habit, the minister asked her what she was doing there each day. She replied, “Oh, I look at Him, and He looks at me. And it is enough.” (Frances de Sales and Sue Monk Kidd’s God’s Joyful Surprise)
Those are the best prayers in my opinion- when we stop long enough to gaze in God’s direction. Nothing needs to be said; He already knows our hearts. It is often a long, loving glance in His direction that feeds me most and brings me peace. Sometimes it is His face above the altar that I seek. Other times it is on a walk in the Bishop’s Garden that His presence is felt or in my house looking at one of our Santos’ or Allan Crite’s block prints of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” It is a private, personal moment that immediately makes me feel connected and close to our Lord.
I understand Jesus’ issue with the religious leaders of His day. He gives a stern warning to his disciples and the crowd not to follow their example for they do not practice what they preach. There is even another passage in Matthew (6:5) where Jesus admonishes everyone not to pray as the Pharisees pray for they say long prayers to get the attention of others.
What would Jesus say about our behavior? Are we drawn to power? Do we want to have the seat of honor? Do we pray long prayers so others think we are superior in our religiosity? Do people think of us as humble servants? Maybe if we gaze longer upon the face that gave His life for us, we will in turn live more like Him.
Help us Lord to gaze at your face and glance at your hand in our lives. For by doing so we are drawn to you. Help us not to reverse our gaze and glance only at our own needs. For when we do that our spiritual lives become barren. Amen. (Roger Barrier)
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