When I first read the passage to Matthew that I read for you today, I came to the word phylacteries and thought to myself; well that is a new one I have never seen it before. So to Google I went and looked up the definition of phylacteries. Now the verse that the word is found in says: They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. So, a phylactery is a small square leather box which contained slips of paper that were inscribed with scriptural passages. The boxes were traditionally worn on the left arm and on the head of the scribes and Pharisees. This practice continues today by observant Jewish men and especially adherents of Orthodox Judaism during morning weekday prayers. What the verse saying that they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long is saying that the scribes and Pharisees wanted the people to notice that they were wearing them showing that they were very important people. In essence they were flaunting the fact of who they were. Now we know what phylacteries are.
So I think in terms of today’s world, the scribes and Pharisees would be what we call now, someone who is full of themselves. They may really be important people but they don’t need to show that off. They should just go about doing what they do and let it be. However, I think too many of us forget to do just that for it is “the all about me” generation where you do what you can to make sure everyone knows just how important or beautiful or talented or wonderful you are. We have so many avenues to do just that now. There is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Tic Toc and the list goes on.
About once a month, Pastor Mike Denton, who is our conference minister, sends a video of his reflections of the upcoming scripture from the lectionary. He sent one that reflects on this passage from Matthew. He said that when he was about to graduate from seminary in 1999, the students in his class were allowed to ask their professors any question. The question selected was what would be the greatest challenge for them as new pastors in the next millennia. The professors had answers like racism, social injustice, religious conflict, and climate change. Pastor Mike said that many of these things have shown up as challenges for the pastors of today. However, there was one professor whose answer was grandiosity. Pastor Mike said that one stumped him, he couldn’t quite figure out what the professor meant when he said grandiosity. So before I go on to what Pastor Mike had to say about that word, I looked it up and this is the definition of grandiosity; the quality of being impressive and imposing in appearance or style, especially pretentiously so; pompous superiority or pretentiousness. Pastor Mike said that now he understands what the professor was saying with that word. We are in a time when we are encouraged to be grandiose, we are encouraged to flaunt ourselves, puff up our chests so to speak. Again, it is the “me” generation.
So to go back to the scripture it goes on to say that Jesus told the disciples and the crowds to listen to the scribes and Pharisees for they did know the Law of Moses. Then they were to do what they were told but not do as the scribes and Pharisees do for they don’t practice what they teach. So the scribes and Pharisees were very knowledgeable but they used that knowledge to flaunt themselves, making sure that everyone knew just how important they were. They wanted the attention of the people; they wanted to be greeted with respect and to have the people call them rabbi. However they didn’t use that knowledge for the betterment of others and themselves.
Pastor Mike goes on to say that grandiosity is something that is challenging for the pastors of our time. He said that we need to fight the grandiosity with humility. Humility is the freedom from pride or arrogance; the quality or state of being humble. We could be like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time but we shouldn’t flaunt it, we should just use that knowledge to do the work that Jesus would have us do and that is to help our fellow people. By helping our fellow people, we are in turn helping ourselves.
The scripture goes on to say that the greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. So who is the greatest among us? It is Jesus, of course. Do you think he used his greatness to flaunt himself? I think not, for if he did he wouldn’t be considered the greatest servant. It would have been so easy for Jesus to be grandiose for after all He is the son of God, He could perform miracles. He did so many great things.
But He didn’t puff up his chest or boast about himself. He quietly went about his way, teaching the people to believe in God. He taught them that if they had faith and believed in God they would have eternal life. He made the greatest sacrifice for all mankind by dying on the cross so that we could have eternal life. He was great because He was humble.
That is what Jesus would like us to be; humble. We all have our great qualities that can be used however they are supposed to be used. But we don’t need to flaunt them to make it all about ourselves. We just need to go about the day and do what we can to make this life that we have better for ourselves and for everyone around us. If we are humble we will be exalted. What could be better? Amen.