October 4, 2016
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.
I like to be honored. I like to be recognized. I like to be greeted with respect. I like it when “important” people know who I am. I like for people to think well of me. I like box seats, and back stage passes and all access admission. Don’t you?
Why is this?
If I know someone important I want you to know it. If I have done something important I want you to know it. And if my kids are honor students at Valley Forge Middle School, I want you to know it. Why is this?
I want people to “see” me in a certain light. Why?
To the extent I am not secure in who I most deeply am, my true self—apart from anything I have, anyone I know or anything I have done—to that extent I will create a false image of myself. I will carefully manage my external image to the end that you will esteem and validate me so that I can esteem and validate myself. It’s one of the reasons we like title “bumps.”
There are at least four ways we do this. 1. We become people pleasers. 2. We become high performers. 3. We posture ourselves for honor. 4. We position ourselves for advantage.
In all these ways we project and promote a public image for ourselves that is disconnected from the truth of who we most deeply are. And in all these ways, the chief metric of our worth as human beings is the way our external image is validated and esteemed by others. (It’s why we both love and hate social media).
This is all garden variety human brokenness. This is where sin comes from. Sin is not so much a moral issue as it is a brokenness problem.
So what does any of this have to do with the first century Pharisees? It’s a fair question. Take everything I have just outlined above and wrap it up in a robe of religion and you get the deluxe version of hypocrisy. It’s why Jesus hates hypocrisy. The seriously dangerous and ever so subtle shift we make is we look at Jesus’ hatred for hypocrisy and we turn it into our hatred for hypocrites. Once we do that, we don’t have to deal with our own hypocrisy because hypocrisy is always someone elses’ problem.
It’s just so easy to pin it on the Pharisees or the Baptists or the (insert your own favorite scape goat). I took this round about way of getting to the Pharisees because the Pharisees are us. And as an aside, this is why we love celebrities. We want gods who can sin with impunity and maintain their exalted status of fame.
When we really become Jesus’ disciples, he leads us on a journey to the overwhelming, unfathomable heart of the Love of God, our Father, for us. Discipleship to Jesus is the only pathway to the truth of who God is and who we most truly are. Discipleship is the journey of deconstructing all that is false—not with an external application of the truth, but through the deep unconditional embrace of the One who is truly True: Jesus.
Far from the false sanctity of image management, discipleship is an inside job, and it’s dirty work.
Lord Jesus, only you can deliver us from the depths of the deception that threaten to derail our discipleship. Only you. I am ready to go deeper with you. I know this will mean leaving the superficial shallows of my carefully constructed image. I’m tired of the endless work of maintaining the subtle falseness of it all. I’m ready for real. Lead me to real. You are real. I follow you. Come Holy Spirit! Amen.
1. What do you think about the four ways listed above that describe how we manage and maintain our external image? Which one are you prone to?
2. Do you see how scapegoating the Pharisees keeps us from dealing with the brokenness we harbor within ourselves? What can be done about this?
3. Reflect on the diabolical nature of wrapping up unhealed brokenness in a religious robe. Where does that lead?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.