What I’m Thinking: Criticizing Religious Leadership

Jesus made some very direct criticism of the religious leaders of his day. They’re the same things that had been said by the prophets about those in previous times – and the same things that can be said in our time, too.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the twenty-third chapter of Matthew (Matthew 23:1-12). This section is part of an extended conversation between Jesus and leaders of various religious schools of thought, various ways of doing theology. It’s all happening in the Jerusalem temple during that period of time on Sunday when Jesus arrived in that great procession that we remember on Palm Sunday and of course his arrest on Thursday and death on Friday.

At this point the conversation has turned into a monologue. Jesus had “silenced” his critics and opponents. In chapter 23, Jesus became much more explicit about his critique of those religious leaders. He said that they created heavy burdens that they laid on others and would make no attempt to help them. It is Jesus who said those devastating words, Follow what they do, but – or follow what they tell you but do not do what they do because they do not practice what they teach. They do what they do for the love of honor. They like to be called teacher and wear long fringes, and have the good seats.

That is the time honored critique of religious leadership, and all too often – in the mouth of Jesus, and in the mouths of the earlier prophets and in the mouths of commentators and critics from those days to this – it is all too often fair. Those of us who are called into the leadership of religious and spiritual communities: we have got to take this seriously. And so I invite you, those who experience me and my colleagues and contemporaries, to take up the challenge of Jesus and to recognize us for what we are.

We are human and fallible. The question is, are we failing out of pride and out of vainglory, or are we failing for the much more human reasons: the limits of our wisdom and our knowledge and our understanding. Those omissions can be corrected. Pride and vainglory: that’s much harder. When you see us doing it – when you see me doing it – I beg you, let us hear those words: “Do what he says, but not what he does. He is not practicing what he teaches.”

Let me hear it, and I pray God that I respond.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: | Posted on October 26, 2020

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