Blue spring flowers on the Cathedral grounds

Matthew 23:1-12 NIV

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. “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.

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus makes an interesting statement about the Scribes and Pharisees – Do what they teach you but do not do as they do. Usually we hear Jesus criticizing the Scribes and Pharisees, but here Jesus says do what they teach. The problem is not what they teach, but rather how they enact their teaching – their motivation. It’s not wrong for the Pharisees and Scribes to wear phylacteries – the leather boxes worn on the head or to wear the tallit – prayer shawls with the fringes. It was part of their prayer practice and still is for many Jews today. The problem comes when they make the boxes broad and the fringes long just so they can be seen by others. It’s not going to the banquet that’s the problem. It’s seeking out the place of honor. Our motivation is important to Jesus..

How often do we do the same thing? We join a non-profit board not because we want to do anything about the cause, but because we want to make certain connections for our career. We give money when someone is asking, because we want to be seen as generous rather than help. Our motivation – what is in our heart is important. Many years ago before I was ordained, after hearing me complain about how overwhelmed I was volunteering at church, my spiritual director asked me how I decided what to do. I said – I say yes if there is nothing on the calendar and no if there is a conflict. I heard my complete lack of intention in my “good” works. My motivation was driven by my wanting to do it all. Her next question was how I could invite God into my decision making. Perhaps that is Jesus’ question for all of us. Are we acting out of love of God or love of self or perhaps not even thinking at all? How can we invite God into all that we do, so that our motivation is God-centered?


Christ in my mind that I may see what is true. Christ in my mouth that I may speak with wisdom. Christ in my heart that I may act with love. Christ in my hands so that I may work with tenderness. Christ in my face that I may shine with God.


The Rev. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery

Canon for Congregational Vitality