Critiquing Titles- Saturday, 20th week in ordinary time- Matthew 23: 1- 12

This was certainly a tumultuous Tuesday in Holy week. Chapter 23 is the hinge to the sixth and final discourse found in the Gospel of Matthew also known as  the Eschatological discourse( pertaining to the end time), found in chapters 24- 26. But for now we are in this ‘hinge chapter’; the setting is temple of Jerusalem and the audience are the crowds and His disciples.  

The Gospel of Matthew now presents a sustained condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, not for what they teach but for how they conduct themselves.  The first part of the condemnation spanning twelve verses is a condemnation of a duplicitous leadership which lacks humility and craves for titular recognition.

A quick glance through chapter 23 will certainly make you think that Jesus had some serious anger issues with the Pharisees and scribes. It is only when we read the text in its context that we understand the mind of Matthew in presenting this chapter as a collection of the teachings of Jesus against the Pharisees.

Jesus did come to destroy the law or the prophets, He came to fulfil it but more He came to liberate the people from the tyrannical interpretations of the law that the Pharisee had imposed on them. Matthew, writing to a predominantly Jewish congregation does not principally intend to defame the Pharisees, although it may seem like it. When Pharisaic teaching took root, it wanted to unite the people and bring them back into the fold; unfortunately while their intention was the best their execution and imposition of it was the worst.

By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were more about position and pronouncements and it is these that Jesus condemns. In His opening words, Jesus acknowledges their right to teach but with no obligation   on the part of the Jews to imitate their behaviour. The teaching was true, for it came from God; their actions were fake for it pandered to men.

While unnecessarily burdening the people with ‘religious interpretation ‘of the law, the Pharisees also appropriated for themselves titles of honour. It is these titles of honour by which they wished to be greeted; at banquets, synagogues and market places

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