Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost & Reformation Day

by Crossings

The New Class
Matthew 23:1-12
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 26-Sunday between October 30 and November 5 Inclusive)
analysis by Michael Hoy

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to the disciples, 2″The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They 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. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the places of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

DIAGNOSIS: The Exalted Class that Gets Humbled

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Teaching and Laying Heavy Burdens
As spiritual leaders, the scribes and Pharisees have authority to instruct the Jewish people. They are teachers of the faith who urge others to lead pure, upright lives according to the laws of God. As leaders and teachers, they hold a privileged role in the community. But, Jesus says, they abuse their privilege. Instead of sharing what they know in order to enrich the world, the scribes and Pharisees use what they know to keep the world down. Maybe they think that others are beneath them — that the everyday believer is worthy only to drudge through life in the misery and despair he creates for himself. Or maybe, to preserve their place of favor in the community, the scribes and Pharisees purposely lay burdens on others which cannot be overcome. Hence, 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.” Since Matthew may well intend that this is not for the scribes and Pharisees of the past, but for his own church leadership, we need to recognize that we are like the scribes and Pharisees, keeping others under our control. Our society gives privileges to people on the basis of race, class, sex, fame, and education; and we, whether we are haves or have-nots, strive to be among the haves.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Valuing Prestige
At first glance, it would seem that Jesus’ encouragement that others should acknowledge that the scribes and Pharisees occupy “Moses’ seat” would seem to support those oppressive structures. But Jesus goes on to note, “do as they teach, not as they do.” When we benefit from these positions of privilege, we come to value them. But we also become unaware of the burdens we have placed on others. But we are not simply setting up others for failure. We are setting up ourselves for failure, lacking the humility to perceive that God’s will is not a basis for our superiority, power, or privilege, but for our heart, soul, and mind to be on God and dedicated toward compassion for others. That we have missed.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Collapsing Under the Weight
Nonetheless, humility will come — that much is certain. By heaping heavy burdens, our own burden of failure and doom grows. And before long, the burden becomes so heavy on our own shoulders, that we collapse. In the end, we fail the One to whom we are accountable, and we cannot bear the burden of accountability.

PROGNOSIS: The Humbled Class that Gets Exalted

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Bearing Our Load
Christ, who as all power, superiority, and divine privilege, uses these not to lower us further, but to accomplish what no one on earth could do — he raises us up. God’s Son, Jesus, wrestles with our guilt and takes that burden upon himself. From the cross, our Lord does not look down upon us, nor does he place burdens on our shoulders, but takes them upon himself in order that we may be saved from the burden of our sin.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: A+ Students
Jesus calls us his “students,” for he is our teacher, our rabbi, our instructor. In fact, he says that we have “one teacher. . . one instructor.” What a relief! What comfort that we know exactly where to look when we need an example of how to live. What inspiration when we hear all that he has to teach us. What happiness in our hearts when this One singles us out and call us his. We do not have to be like the scribes and the Pharisees who hide their faults and disguise their limitations in order to sit at the head of the class. We know we are his, to learn from him, to embrace his joy and grow from his Word!

Step 6- Final Prognosis: Teaching by Laying Down Our Lives for Others
As Christians we practice what we preach when, in the face of guilt and sin, we preach repentance through the forgiveness of sin. As a result of forgiveness we preach salvation because Christ was raised from death into life. We preach these things not by our own knowledge or wisdom, but as the humble preaching we have received, and for which there is no place for superiority. We practice what we preach by lifting up others from their burdens. Because others know oppression and abuse at the hands of those who would be superior, we reach out to them as fellow pupils of the One who raises up the lowly and gives them the joys of the kingdom.

The Freedom Of The Household
John 8:31-36
(Reformation Day– October 31)
analysis by Michael Hoy

31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

DIAGNOSIS: The Slavery of Traditionalism

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: “We Are Descendants of Abraham…”
Tracing one’s ancestry through Abraham is still the presumption of the Jews who, it is said, “believed” in Jesus (v. 31). But these converts speak to Jesus here more out of their faith in their Jewish tradition and heritage than in their faith in Jesus. Christians throughout history — and even today — have often made the same mistake, making more of their cherished denomination, or invoking the particular “traditions” within their church using the deadly seven-last-words-of-the-church, “we never did it that way before.”

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Slaves to Sin
Are we descendants of Abraham, then, or aren’t we? Perhaps, but when legalistic traditionalism is the operating framework for tracing our heritage, we are not descendants in the line of Sarah — only in the line of Hagar (in the Pauline sense of Galatians 4:21-31). When the “Law” or our rights are cherished to the exclusion of any open-heartedness, then we are not free. We are bound as “slaves to sin”. Such slavery keeps us in subjection to our narrow world-views, and keeps our hearts so cold that we cannot understand or even perceive what it would really be like to be free, all the while deceiving ourselves that we are.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: No Permanent Place
The ultimate tragedy is that God has no room for legalists in his kingdom. They are cast out, deprived of any meaningful or lasting credentials or heritage, deprived of any permanent place in God’s company of faithful followers.

PROGNOSIS: The Promising Tradition

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Truly Free
“But if the Son makes you free, then you will be free indeed!” These closing remarks from the lips of Jesus bring a closure to our problem of being cut-off from God’s good graces. Getting into the house comes from having Someone who lives there and who invites us in. Jesus, knowing the way to the Father’s heart and home, makes that offer — to be sure at great cost to himself, but an offer that still brings us home and close to the Father.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: “The Son Has a Place There Forever”
As those who have been welcomed in, we do not simply hold on to the past rags of our slavery to sin. No, we are welcomed in as the very children of God, offspring of the same heavenly Father through our Lord and Brother Jesus. The freedom that Jesus brings breaks the chains of our slavery, and makes us, instead, those who get to cherish in our hearts that we are baptized! We are the Father’s own children! We are truly those in the faithful line of the promising tradition of Abraham. The descendants of Abraham are the descendants of faith in the Promised Seed, Jesus the Christ.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Continuing (Abiding) in Jesus’ Word
Someday we will be fully welcomed home. But for now, we get to live as those who construct their world-views with the big picture of the promising tradition. The family of God is bigger than our little ecclesiastical barriers. Abiding in the larger household of Jesus’ promising Word, we become part and parcel of the ecumenical church in the world. This world is our place to abide and to proclaim as the Father’s own place, even as it was and is Jesus’ stomping grounds. As children of the heavenly Father, it is our own play-land in child-like freedom.


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