Matthew 23:1-12: so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.
Read the gospel passage whole to get the full story of the excoriation of Jesus attacking the â€˜Phariseesâ€™ â€“ meaning the Muslim Pharisees, the Hindu Pharisees, the Israeli Pharisees, the secular Pharisees and not least the Christian Pharisees. Not many people can get away with this kind of exposure and condemnation of hypocrisy and exploitation. And, as we will see in Holy Week, Jesus didnâ€™t get away with it either. But we trust him, because of this suffering and its transcendent aftermath, and because he spoke from a passionate addiction to truth that is the only kind of addiction that sets us free.
Religion itself is laid bare here, not just one denomination. The corruption of the best is the worst and so deserves the highest level of exposure and condemnation. Jesus then draws the logical conclusion: you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. Enter Luther and, a little later, the Second Vatican Council and then Pope Francis. Enter also the great Christian shadow, the anti-Christ (anti-Krishna, anti-Moses, anti-Mohammed, anti-everything authentic). You are all brothers and sisters â€“ how are we going to square that uneconomic idealism with the need for hierarchy and privilege masquerading as service and humility? Easy: older brothers and inferior sisters.
Jesus is so radically disruptive. How can we domesticate him, how can the church put a spin on this disturbing so-called â€˜goodâ€™ news that turns the world as we know it â€“ and our minds as we use them â€“ upside down? Thatâ€™s easy too. Create systems which have the labels of truth but not the healing touch of the truth. Then idolise the systems.
How can we resist this inevitable tendency to the counter-revolutionary? If you donâ€™t know yet, letâ€™s pray this Lent will teach you.