Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Selections from this chapter, continuing this theme, go on through Wednesday in the Daily Office Lectionary of The Book of Common Prayer.
It is a prophetic chapter. The leaders appointed to mediate of God's mercy are about to murder the one who is God's mercy:
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
Clergy face a constant, subtle and strong temptation to take out God and replace Him with ourselves. It can be horrible and obvious, as in the case of cult leaders. But it takes place in many little ways among the most well intentioned men and women of God. The sin we renounce yet lug around in our flesh, big yet brittle egos, the trappings of church, neurotic needs, pleasurable perks and more tempt us to betray the One we are suppossed to represent. We make Him invisible and irrelevant and draw the people to ourselves.
Jesus presents a problem that we can't fix. He calls us to preach his message, yet none of us are to assert ourselves as "the teacher." He calls us to be his public witnesses, but doesn't want us drawn to the spotlight. He wants a radical, absolute turn toward God.
Which is precisely what we cannot do - at least not consistently - while we live in this world. It's hard enough for lay people, but clergy are dropped right in the middle of the impossible demand, with no possible result but frequent outbreaks of hypocrisy.
Whenever Jesus brings one of these "hard sayings", the only remedy is grace. These impossible expectations expose the failure that can break down our pride and make us reach toward a merciful God.
Please pray for your clergy, and for yourselves. We need God's help and we most assuredly need one another's.
Pray for all Clergy:
Ask the Father to show us great mercy, to make us aware of the great mercy we receive, and to make us witnesses to His mercy.
Ask the Son to touch us with kindness whenever we are discouraged by our hypocrisies.
Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire our gifts for faithful work and to make our personal qualities fruitful.
Pray for all Lay People:
Ask the Father to cleanse you of any lurking paganism - any ways in which you say, "My clergy do holy stuff (prayer, Bible reading, caring for others, etc.) so I don't have to."
Ask the Son to honor you by revealing what part of his body, the Church, you are.
Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of all that Jesus said and did, and to guide you into understanding.
You see, the humbling and healing of clergy depends in part on the glorious rising of all the people - not as our "employers" or critics, but as awesome Christians in your own right. As one chosen, flawed preacher told a congregation: