October 30, 2005
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Generally speaking, people who are conceited and proud are not respected. That statement could be made any where the world over. And, [the statement] could be made that the church is particularly strong in that tendency. Jesus said, "Whoever is the greatest among you, become a servant! Whoever is high minded will be made low, whoever humbles himself or herself will be elevated," (verses eleven and twelve). [This] is the Word of God we read for today. In this passage with its highly respected words, first off a person will not be respected if a person speaks conceitedly about worldly matters -- for example, of one's status in society, of one's accomplishments, or of personal abilities, or of one's influence. Much rather, such an act [of boasting] will be regarded as quite shameful. But, the church is just like that.
2. Then, since the church is that kind of place, another issue will also arise. "Whoever is the greatest among you, become a servant!" Jesus certainly meant that. But, what if the person, who lowers himself or herself and serves, murmurs in his or her heart, --'I am doing this, I am truly the greatest'--? Don't you think that would be odd? But, because humility is a place that is respected, even humble behavior actually leads to being the source of haughtiness and pride. Again, the Lord did say, "Whoever is high minded will be made low, whoever humbles himself or herself will be elevated." But, it is also possible that humbling oneself ends up becoming a means for elevation. It seems to me that these words from Jesus must not by any means be divorced from the setting in which they were given.
In Order To Show Off To People
3. With that, let's start by reading again from verses one to seven. "After that, Jesus spoke to the crowd and his disciples. 'The scribes of the law and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses. Therefore, practice and keep all that they say. But, don't imitate their deeds because they just talk and do not put it into practice. They tie up unbearable loads and put them on people's shoulders, but refuse to lend one finger to move it themselves. Everything they do is for the purpose of showing off to people. They are always making the small boxes, [phylacteries], that have verses inside huge, and the tassels of their robes long. They take pleasure in sitting at the seats of honor at banquets and the highest seats in the synagogue, and they like always being greeted in the plazas and being called, Master.'," (verses one through seven).
4. Jesus said about the scribes of the law and the Pharisees, "Don't imitate their deeds because they just talk and do not put it into practice." The image of "Pharisee as hypocrite" is firmly entrenched in us, so we will hardly be surprised even upon hearing these words. However, we can pretty much guess that the crowd that was there was very surprised. I say that because as generally acknowledged among the people, the Pharisees would truly risk their lives "to put [the legal traditions] into practice." As they put [their lives] on the line "to put God's commandments into practice," perhaps they were more earnest and serious than anyone of us assembled here. In the first place, for the Pharisee, a study of scripture that does not include putting it into practice makes no sense at all. The words of the scripture have meaning when they are practiced and applied to real life. Thus, they have carefully observed the oral traditions from those of long ago, who had applied the law to their daily living. In addition, they gave repeated careful consideration and interpretation to how they [would] apply it themselves.
5. For example, we'll see it clearly if we look at the rules for the Sabbath. It was precisely because they did respect this matter of "what to practice" that they had produced, from what labor means, thirty-nine clauses of prohibitions of what they should not do on the Sabbath. Among them there were prohibitions on harvesting as well as prohibitions on acts of medical care. When you think about it, much rather instead, weren't the ones who did not practice these rules of the Sabbath Jesus and his disciples? Because the Pharisees cared about "what to practice," they became angry that the disciples of Jesus picked wheat on the Sabbath and ate. They also became angry for Jesus' healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. As seen by the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples were truly a group that "did not practice." One should not say to the commandment breakers things like, "because they just talk and do not put it into practice." Why did Jesus say such a thing, [when] he should have been very much aware that they were Pharisees with respect for "what to practice?" I wonder where Jesus had his eyes turned. What was he taking issue against?
6. So, it is the statement in verse five that we will stop to look at. "Everything they do is for the purpose of showing off to people." That their concern is only directed towards people means that their concern is not properly directed towards God. What does this mean specifically? Jesus illustrates an actual example as follows. "They are always making the small boxes, [phylacteries], that have verses inside huge, and the tassels of their robes long."
7. These "small boxes with verses inside, [phylacteries]" are attached to the left arm and the head at prayer time. They put into practice exactly what it says in Exodus chapter twelve and verse sixteen and so forth, "You will remember to attach these words to your arm as a sign and attach them to your head." In regard to the tassels on one's clothing, in Numbers chapter fifteen and verses thirty-eight and following, the scripture says, "Announce to the Israelites and tell them this. For generations, sew tassels on the four corners of your robes, and attach blue threads to those tassels. They will become your tassels, and when you look at them, you will recall and keep all the commandments of the Lord, so that you will not follow after your own hearts and the lusts of your eyes and do defiled acts."
8. Thus, attaching the boxes with the verses inside and attaching the tassels onto the clothing both were originally for the purpose of living obediently unto God. The original meaning in this was supposed to have been in loving God, who delivered them from Egypt and who revealed his grace to them. It meant that, and so keeping the law was supposed to be at its fundamental level the act of loving God.
9. As a matter of fact, they weren't "always making the phylacteries with biblical verses inside huge, and the tassels of their robes long" from the beginning. When they were in their young days seeking a rabbi with whom to study and had started being a disciple, they must have had the pure desire to want to live obediently unto God for life. They must have had the fervent thought that "I want to live loving the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my thoughts" just as they had recited each day.
10. But, something happens when you're put into a world where "putting it into practice" becomes problematic. Our concerns wind up facing just on our own deeds to do rather than on God himself. Our concerns wind up being just on how much those deeds to do of ours are worth. We never see it coming. Then, before you know it, we are making the boxes with the biblical verses in them quite large. Before you know it, we are making the tassels on our robes longer. We become people who show off our piety to others. In the mean time, [we] "take pleasure in sitting at the seats of honor at the banquets and the highest seats in the synagogue, and [we] like always being greeted in the plazas and being called, Master" -- "An illustrious figure" such as these Pharisees, [which we've become] is completely cut and cooked.
11. "Do not imitate their deeds because they just talk and do not put it into practice." Jesus is not speaking of "one's practice or performance" in the outward sense. He is saying that as one speaks the name of God one does not turn his or her concern towards God in any real sense, and one's love for God or one's obedience towards God is not found anywhere.
One Master, One Father, One Teacher
12. Well, that's what Jesus said about the scribes of the law and the Pharisees. I think you already noticed it, but it does apply to us [as well]. It is possible for the same thing to take place whether among Christ's disciples, the church, or us here in this place. Jesus knows that. That's why he continued his speech here with "But, you ..."
13. "But, you should not be called 'master.' Your master is one person alone, and everyone is your brother. Also, you should not call anyone on earth 'father.' Your father is only one father in heaven. You should not even be called 'teacher.' Your teacher is one Christ alone," (verses eight through ten).
14. What is translated "master" is the word "rabbi." The Lord said, you should not be called "rabbi." In fact, in the church afterwards the honorary title "rabbi" was never used. Accepting the Japanese translation just as it stands, there are even some churches that won't ever use the title "sensei" for pastors and missionaries, or either for church school teachers. But, is what the Lord speaking to just about the problem of titles? Then, what about his next statement? Should we not call our biological father "father" any more? What about Catholic "fathers or priests?" What about calling Benedict XVI "the Pope [meaning, papa or father]?" The word "teacher" in verse ten is only used here in the New Testament. This word can also be translated as "leader, coach." Are we not supposed to use that title either?
15. When we hear these words of Jesus as words that merely speak on the rights and the wrongs of titles, I think that we fail to hear the main thing of importance. The main thing here is still the same thing that was said about the Pharisees earlier. Which is, it's about where we are supposed to direct our eyes and attention. It's about God the Father and Christ the true leader. For that reason he said each statement one right after the other, "Your master is one person alone," "Your father is only one father in heaven," and "Your teacher is one Christ alone."
16. Actually, even if we never use these titles as the scriptures have written here, if our concern is only towards people, we are hardly any different from those Pharisees. For example, it's the same thing whenever a church is only on the subject of the rights and the wrongs of human actions. It's the same thing whenever a church only takes on a conversation about human greatness, [human] refinement, the size of the work, the steadfastness of faith, purity, devotion, and humility, etc, etc. That's right. If a church ends up like that, you will find teachers in it that may be fervent, but without an interest in God, servants that may be hard working, but without an interest in God. Before you know it, everybody [in the church] will start doing those kinds of things like always making their "phylacteries with the verses inside" huge and the tassels on their robes long.
17. As touched upon at the very beginning, the words, "Whoever is the greatest among you, become a servant! Whoever is high minded will be made low, whoever humbles himself or herself will be elevated," (verses eleven and twelve), came right after it. It must be heard as an extension to what has already been mentioned. If we isolate these two verses by themselves away from the words before them and then put the main point on only the words "great person," "servant," "elevated person," and then hear it that way, it will turn out just to be a mere commandment about boasting in worldly matters, as I stated at the first. Or, like a big fat pain in the neck, the act of serving will become a method in order to be considered a great person, and the act of humbling oneself will degrade into a means to elevation.
18. Your master is only one person, your father is only one person, and your teacher is only one person -- you must turn your hearts to this father, to this master. The subject must be about the father and the master. When we live with our hearts turned to the one father and the one master, we can begin to find the true relationships that we are supposed to be in with one another. Then, for the first time, we will come to find relationships in which "Everyone is [our] brother." That is, we will come to be able to live in relationships in which we serve one another in various different ways, be it as pastors, church members, or different kinds of ministers. Yes, indeed, we will be made into true servants while in a correct relationship with God as our Father. When Jesus Christ, who descended into the lowest of places in order to save us and who descended even to a death upon the cross, truly becomes our master, we will be made into a humble and serving people in the truest sense.