Today’s passage shows us examples of how to guard against self-exultation and aggrandizing. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were zealous for the Torah. This was of course not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Quite the opposite. Where things started to turn sideways was in their keenness to show this zeal in sundry ways, such as broadening their phylacteries and presumptuously taking up seats of honor. These outward signs of piety eventually became a means of elevating themselves and thereby suppressing divine truth. There was a spirit of self-congratulation at spiritual attainment, a faux nearness to God, feigned infallibility at interpreting the Law, Prophets, and Writings (The Tanach).
Against this way of thinking and living, Jesus tells the crowd gathered of the underlying hypocrisy, earlier told by the prophet Isaiah 29:13 says “…Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…”(Isaiah 29:13).
Avoiding hypocrisy is accomplished through humility. It is accomplished through charity and service toward our fellow man. It is by recognizing who we are before God. We are sinners in need of grace and mercy. In this way, we are all equal with our fellow man. No one person has an advantage over the other. We can never lord our piety over others or think we have a market cornered in the realm of the spiritual or godly. We should not seek honor from our fellow man, but to serve.
All of these forms of self-denial are in view when Jesus reminds us of our calling to follow Him daily. Each day, God’s mercies are new. Each day, we are given a chance to walk circumspectly, not thinking highly of ourselves and giving out medals and awards to be displayed in our homes or working it out so that we get the best seat or receive the highest words of approbation.
Imagine the freedom that comes from not having to perform for others. Picture what it would be like if you only worked to please your Heavenly Father instead of seeking the capricious praise of other people. What would happen if you were not shackled by the disingenuous? Jesus’ teachings are liberating. We can be free of these things by following Him.
In Christ, we are truly free to be the authentic self that our culture so often wants to find in other places. In Christ, we are free from the lies and half-truths that eat away at our souls. We can rid ourselves of hypocrisy and inevitably collapsing self-aggrandizement by reveling in the freedom won for us by Christ. In Christ, we can cast aside the concerns that drive us toward that which we are not.
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