Key Text: Matthew 23:1-8
Jesus never came to make his people more religious but to bring them back into a right relationship with God. In our present society the word ‘religion’ has changed its use. Only a few generations ago the word religion meant a frame work that helped you engage and worship God, but today for so many it’s a word meaning any oppressive and controlling institution.
For Jesus he certainly had problems with the religious systems and leaders. We see Jesus challenging the religious people directly and clearly in his teaching.
Jesus spent much of his time challenging the religiously pious, and condemning the religious professionals of his day. Jesus was not anti-Jewish, He was a Jew Himself. Jesus spoke with a fierce hostility to the Religiosity and the Religious leaders and does so like the prophets in the Old Testament. As we read through the New Testament and Jesus’ teaching we realise that it must be one of the most thoroughly anti-religious books ever written.
Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:17 that he didn’t reject Judaism but simply came to fulfil it in person. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”.
Jesus was not anti-religion, because the word “religion” is a neutral word and represents all religions. But Jesus did come to challenge religiosity and fundamentalism that is used to oppress someone else or control. When we see Jesus challenging the religious what he is challenging is the religiosity of those people. He is challenging their need to be right and their fiery passion for the letter of the law. It was their lack of grace that he is pointing at and their inability to live out their own teaching.
Religion is nothing but the scaffolding that holds up faith practices. Some scaffolding is heavy and some is light.
Religiosity is where religion is worshipped more than the One it aims for. Its where the practices become more important than God Himself.
Q. How would you explain the word religion and the word religiosity?
Q. What religion would you say Jesus would belong to?
Q. Jesus never mentioned LGBTQ issues or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing those who are LGBTQ or had abortions. Do our church leaders look like the Jesus we see in the Bible?
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 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. 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. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers”.
What jumps out at you?
What questions do you have?
Q. “They crush people with unbearable religious demands”. Are you able to pin point what kinds of things they were asking people to do?
Q. in v.2 it says you sit in ‘Moses seat’. What is Moses’ seat? “Moses seat” was a colloquial expression that was understood at that time. Moses’ seat was a literal stone seat that was at the front of the Jewish Synagogues. The Religious Leader would sit in this seat and make judgements concerning spiritual and civil matters. The Pharisees did not have the ability to change the law but to only administer it. Jesus tells the reader to make sure they live aligned with the teaching of God from his book, given by the religious leader but don’t live it out in the same way as them. They had called foul in that the Pharisees were not practising what they preached. It’s easy to point the finger at others who don’t practice what they preach. Let’s ask this question, how good are you at practising what you preach?
Q. v.5 “Everything they do is done for people to see”. How do you feel about this line? How much of your faith is a show and how much authentic?
Q. “Phylacteries” or prayer boxes are leather boxes Jews would strap to their left arm and heads. They contained scripture readings. Once these had been about holding scripture on your mind and heart, but they had become a thing of religious performance, a sign of personal piety. How do we perform our faith? E.g. extra-large leather Bibles?
Q. As Jesus sees it, what is the main evil of the Pharisees? (e.g. The spirit of superiority.)
Q. Jesus challenged religiosity. What would Jesus challenge about our modern Christianity? (e.g. long prayers, those wearing the biggest crosses, boasting about how many years serving the church. Having your face on the who’s who notice board. Using lots of religious jargon especially when praying publicly.)
Q. Why do you think Jesus says to the Disciples to not be called Rabbi? What distinction is Jesus trying to make between the Pharisees and the Disciples?
Note: Jesus didn’t want the disciples to seek religious fame, or to be known as great teachers, he wanted them to simply point people to Him. Not using the title is about setting them free from the desire to be known as a leader.
Q. “They love the place of honour at banquets”, these leaders were seeking to be seen and known. How does this compare to how Jesus behaved and the banquets he was seen at?
Q. What do you think Jesus might challenge in you? Take some time in quietness to reflect and be honest with yourself.
Move into a time of prayer using the following confession.
God, we confess our religiosity.
When we have put our religious practices over a relationship with you.
When we have gone through the motions.
When we have cared more for the sound of our worship than the poor.
When we have not acted justly or sought justice
When we have cared more about what we have looked like than behaved like.
We are sorry.
Would our hearts only care about you and what you want.
And would we be set free from religiosity.