Matthew 23: When Down is Up -- Escaping Wrong Priorities

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Today's Bible Reading: Matthew 23

Selected Biblical Text
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 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. 4 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. 5 Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called 'Rabbi' by others. 8 But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:1-12 NIV)

Reflecting and Thinking
Depending on the Bible you use for your Bible reading, you may have noticed -- lots of red words! Most of chapters 23-24-25. The words of Jesus. Preparing for the end. What does one say when one knows the end is near? No need to hold back about things that are wrong -- speak clearly about the things that are not as they should be. And in Jesus' day, there was a lot more wrong with the Pharisees than there was right. Misuse of authority, bad examples, inconsistent practices, burdensome interpretations, hypocritical glory-seeking. They had totally missed it. The way up is down; the way down is up. The humble are exalted; the self-exalted will be humbled. Service is greatness; greatness by any other standard is nothingness. The kingdom is not defined by positions and titles. What is needed is a brand new set of priorities -- to focus on others more than self; to live out compassion, humility, service, love.

What impresses you as you read Jesus' woes against the Pharisees? With whom do you identify? Do you identify with Jesus -- thinking about some people you would like to tell these very things? Do you identify with the crowds and disciples? They are the ones Jesus is addressing. Do you identify with the religious leaders who have missed the whole point of following God? Is Jesus saying anything at all to you, to us, in this chapter? What are some of the applications we should make?

Dear God, help us hear your word. When it stings and hurts, let us hear it anyway and change our lives. Help us hear what we need to hear. We know that our priorities get confused. We know that we are at times self-seeking and self-serving. We know also that we can be harsh taskmasters in those areas of life we think we have under control. Develop in us the heart of Jesus, we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

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Last updated January 2019