Friday, February 22, 2013

Do as I say, not as I do[1]

Lent Day 10
Mat 23:1-12  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 honour 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.

People generally become critical of those people who do not practice the goodness they preach. This is most evident when a policeman is caught breaking the law, or politician is found to have been less than honest in a public speech, or a preacher exhibits moral failure.

The enduring problem of life is that we are all caught in this paradigm. We, who criticise the hypocrisy in other people, are subject to our own inconsistent behaviour. St Paul described the dilemma of knowing what is right but being unable to do it:  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Romans 7:19).  Jesus seems to suggest that the key to living an honest life is to be humble. This is the humility that admits to our own failings, while refusing to allow our shortcomings to limit our expectations of ourselves.

Challenge for today: to allow latitude for the failings in the people around me, while constantly expecting better of myself. 


The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90




[1] This order first appeared in John Selden's Table-Talk (c. 1654): "Preachers say, 'Do as I say, not as I do.”

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