This is scary. For 'scribes' & 'Pharisees', it doesn't take much imagination to read 'priests', 'pastors', 'elders', 'wardens',.... nor Jesus saying to today's 'crowds' & 'disciples' in general, "Look at them! Do what they teach, but don't do what they do. They're windbags. Full of hot air. Don't expect them to lift a hand to help anyone. They're just show! More interested in their authority than sitting under God's authority. In dressing up for show than being clothed in righteousness. On about positions of honour, & titles, not about getting their hands dirty along with me! More interested in being celebrities than being servants." Is there a mirror handy? Whom do we see in it?
We're all raised to use some system of honorifics to refer to people, & many of them are probably harmless, but I take Jesus to mean that any title we use must be one of servanthood rather than rank or superiority. Church, most parts, anyway, don't have a good track record on this one. Many of us have experienced those who claw their way or are kicked upstairs only for us to discover to our sorrow that servanthood goes out the door as they go up the stairs. In favour of consolidation of rank & position. Is it time to cut ourselves back to size before God does it for us? I like that rather lovely little newer hymn, 'Brother, sister, let me serve you, Let me be as Christ for you'... Perhaps it could be our theme song out there in our margins. Sing it out in what we do for God & each other. (I often find myself sitting near a woman who closes her hymn book gently but firmly rather than sing what's on offer in church. I find that catching!) How about we sing a new song, the new song for God out there? Somewhere. Everywhere. Gently but firmly shut down inappropriate responses to Jesus in favour of living & serving as he did & still does - in us, out through us, or not at all.
Here Jesus has many other harsh things to say about the Hebrew church as he observed it. Maybe it's just as well we're skipping most of the rest of it today in our Christian sanctuaries! What do we have to do to put things right? Not just in church. Right with God & right out there, wherever that is.
Jesus seems despairing, in his humanity, at least, at the indifference & opposition he encounters. We often complain about it, too, but with less reason, methinks. Ask our congregation which Christians they most respect & they'll almost certainly name those who get down on their hands & knees among ordinary people who need someone to serve them. In a famous mural of 'saints' dancing above & around the altar, S.Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco incorporates a lot of people as unlikely as Jesus himself! Could we go that far? Blessed, indeed, is the one who, like Jesus himself, comes in the Name of the Lord! May we be numbered among them all.