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Matthew 23:1-12

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

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.”


The is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 26, the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud by a priest in church on Sunday, November 5, 2017. It is important because Jesus pointed out how people who stand highly as religious leaders, in the eyes of human beings, will be humbled in the eyes of the LORD. This means the most exalted Spiritual teachers on earth will serve only God.

Verse two of this selection has Jesus telling his followers (both general listeners and valued assistants), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.” This is the only specific reference to “Moses’ seat” in all the Holy Bible. Some take this statement as meaning there was some physical “seat, chair,” or “bench,” upon which Moses sat. Some say the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope now sits on that figurative “seat,” as the See of St. Peter.

Some might sell tickets in the Holy Land, for pilgrims to have their picture taken by the “seat of Moses.”

Found in Chorazin, which is just north of the Sea of Galilee … a place Moses never went.

To best understand this statement by Jesus, one has to grasp how “Moses’ seat” was a reference to the state of Judea then, where Jerusalem was a place that had been set aside for exilic Jews to play the game, “What if?”

“What if our ancestors had not lost our land?” they would say. Then they would surmise, “We would be returned to the days when Judges would be sent by God to save us.” It was the Judges of Israel, before the Twelve Tribes had a king, and before they had a powerful prophet of the LORD in Samuel, who every 80 years would snap the wayward children of Israel back from their pagan ways, getting them to remember their Covenant to be righteous in the eyes of the One God.

The Judges of Israel sat on “Moses’ seat,” just as Moses had judged the Israelites prior to their entrance into the Promised Land. Thus, “Moses’ seat” stands for “Tradition,” which is the claim the Vatican has made. The Pope and his entourage sit as Judges of Christians. Unfortunately, that makes Rome the epitome of what this Scripture says, where Jesus warned the Jews around him, “Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

This statement of “Moses’ seat” is best understood from careful examination of Exodus 18 (as all examination of Scripture should be … carefully done … as if one cares about the truth being revealed). Here is a link to that chapter, which the New International Version has entitled, “Jethro Visits Moses.”

Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses, the father of Zipporah, and a priest of Midian. In Exodus 18:13 we read, “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.” (NIV) The actual Hebrew states, “way·yê·šeḇ mō·šeh liš·pōṭ,” rooted in “yashab Mosheh shaphat,” meaning “Sat Moses to judge.” The act of sitting implies a “seat, chair” or “bench,” but that specificity was not directly stated. Moses could have “sat” on the ground; but the implication of “sitting in judgment” implies an elevated position, like a mound that overlooked the people.

Today, furniture manufacturers sell “Judge’s chairs,” which have high backs, much like a king’s throne. In a courtroom setting, such a Judge’s chair would be set upon a raised floor (24”), higher than the people’s benches and the chairs of the jurors’ (set on a floor raised 12”).  This could imply the “seat of Moses” was a high-back chair, which went wherever the Tabernacle went, along with some platform to set the chair on.

In Exodus 18, the wisdom of Jethro is imparted to Moses, after Jethro saw Moses being the Judge of the Israelites. In Exodus 18:17 we read, “Moses’ father-in-law [said], “What you are doing is not good.” Jethro saw that doing everything alone was too heavy of a burden to bear; so he recommended that Moses choose “good men” to do the majority of the judging, so that only the major problems came before Moses.

Moses listened to Jethro and did what he advised; so we read in Exodus 18:26: “They [the “good men” chosen by Moses] served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.”  Thus, the seat of Moses was only for matters that needed to be petitioned to the LORD.  It would be more in line with America’s Supreme Court, rather than a lesser court.

For Jesus to say, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat” (in the plural number), the intent was to point out how the wisdom of Jethro was missing in the Temple of Jerusalem’s justice system. That system revolved around a series of changing High Priests, with Joseph Caiaphas the ruler of that roost at that time. His appointment was based on support from “the scribes and the Pharisees,” in the artificial environment that made the Second Temple (Herod’s Temple) be like Disneyland (a Magical Kingdom), in the midst of Roman empirical domination.

The logic of that system was, “We lost our land because of our failure to follow the Laws of Moses, therefore we will model Judaism after the times when Judges sat on the seat of Moses, until God sends us our next Savior Judge.”  The idea of a Messiah (or a Christ) was thought to be a strong warrior-leader; but when the Roman Empire was the current champion whose title belt needed to be taken in a fight to the death, few scribes and Pharisees gave that prophecy any chance of ever happening.  If you ask a Jew today about that prophecy, he or she will say they are still waiting.  To wait 3,000 years for a prophecy to come true means one does not believe it will ever happen, but faith calls for polite patronizing.

This means those judges were sitting upon the seat of Moses, like Moses did prior to taking the advice of Jethro. The scribes and Pharisees eschewed such wisdom and shunned any thoughts about sharing the responsibilities of judgment, keeping that heavy burden all for themselves. After all, that system of Kings replacing Judges had failed miserably … to the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Thus, when Jesus said, “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 had no problem with bearing a heavy burden, because they only had to pass judgments that benefited themselves, at the expense of others.

Because Jesus told the crowd and his disciples to do as they taught, he was saying they taught the Laws of Moses.  All the descendants of the Israelites must follow those rules. As for not allowing those judges to be their personal role models, the actions of writers and lawyers would only lead the crowds, and disciples who followed their leads, to lives of corruption.

When Jesus said, “For they make their phylacteries broad,” I imagine most Christians are like me and hear a word like “phylacteries” and wonder, “Hmmm what the heck is that.” Then, the majority of Christians ignore that thought and keep on reading, never doing anything to learn what Jesus said and what that meant.

These are “phylacteries.”

They are defined as: “two small leather boxes worn during morning prayers by Orthodox and Conservative Jews after the age of 13 years and one day. Each box contains strips of parchment inscribed with verses from the Scriptures: Ex. 13.1–10; 13.11–16; Deut. 6.4–9; 11.13–21. One box is fastened to the forehead and the other to the left arm; they are intended to serve as a reminder of the constant presence of God and of the need to keep Him uppermost in one’s thoughts and deeds, thereby safeguarding the wearer against committing a sin. They are not worn on the Sabbath or holy days, since these days are in themselves a reminder of God. Phylacteries are also called tephillin.” (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, via The Free Dictionary by Farlex) The word is Greek for “safeguard,” just as is the meaning of the Hebrew word “tephillin.”

When Jesus said, “They make … their fringes long,” this is what that refers to:

By increasing the size of two symbols of devotion to God, which made it easier for everyone to notice, the scribes and Pharisees were skilled in the art of deception.  They knew the power of suggestion.  They understood that acting a part makes people believe you are the character whose role you are playing.  And it technically wasn’t lying, if you never said you were what you led people to believe you were … erroneously.

The point made by Jesus saying the scribes and the Pharisees was that they were quite showy about their religious pedigree. They put on airs.  The saying, “The clothes make the man” (Mark Twain, as a paraphrase of Shakespeare: “Apparel oft proclaims the man”) means that the way one looks is how others will think of that one.

In the words of Billy Crystal (pretending to be Fernando Lamas): “You dahling? You look mahvelous!”

If Jesus were to reappear as Jesus before the crowd and his Christian disciples today, he would be pointing out the same flaws still present in religious clothing.




Jesus said of the writers (scribes) and the lawyers (Pharisees), “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.” Those translated words make it easy to see the special societal favors that were expected by high-ranking Jews in ancient times. However, do the same words not identify these modern personalities, who “teach” as idols?


Hey hey hey

The wheels on the bike go round and round

Seeing how such glittering stars in politics, acting, and sports have risen to the top and fallen to the depths of their popularity, after their public images have been exposed as unworthy of worship, Jesus spoke the truth when he said, “Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

We look up to teachers (rabbis) that surround us, blindly trusting that they are there to help us. Then, time and again, the truth comes out that our idols were only helping themselves. They were taking advantage of common ignorance.

Jesus warned the crowd and his disciples, “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” Our only teacher is God, who sent us laws to live by, through Moses. The only thing that can be taught of true value is this: “Listen to the LORD.” The word of the LORD can be recited for us, but only fear of God will make one obey that word.

Then, Jesus went on. He added, “And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven.” This applies to the interpretation that I did on Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, where he wrote, “We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12) Paul was not a genetic parent to adults he met in his evangelism. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit of the Father; therefore he taught the Thessalonians how to be Christian, as the Father in heaven told him.

For that reason, Jesus then said, “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” The “Messiah” is the “Christ.” This means Paul was an instructor, just as Jesus was instructing the crowd and his disciples in Jerusalem. If you ponder that instruction carefully, then you will see that every Apostle becomes an instructor, just as did Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and those of Thessaly, the same way Jesus became one – God sent His Holy Spirit to be One with the faithful, allowing all to become “the Messiah,” “the Christ.”

I have said it before, and I will repeat it once again now: You fall in love with GOD and accept His proposal for marriage (males AND females). The you consummate your love of GOD by doing acts of faith, until you give birth to a new you, which is the rebirth of Jesus Christ in your body. Just as Jesus was “Christ Jesus,” you become “Christ (fill in your name here),”

The birth of Jesus Christ as you means you cease trying to “have the place of honor at [awards] banquets and the best seats in the [houses of worship], and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces [places of employment, where so many sell their souls routinely], and to have people call [you] role model [based on the materials you amass].” You stop serving self and begin (forevermore) serving Yahweh. Thus, Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.”

To be reborn as Jesus Christ means “the abundance” [“the greatest”] of “the Christ” will be in “yourselves,” as within “you” [meanings of the Greek word “hymōn”]. This presence will ensure “you” or “yourselves” [repetition of “hymōn”] of becoming a “servant” or “waiter” or “anyone who performs any service.” As a “servant” of “the Messiah,” you will do exactly as Jesus of Nazareth did, and repeatedly say, “I speak the truth, for the Father.”

This way of grasping verse 11 makes understanding verse 12 easier. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted,” says that you choose which path you take in life. Do you lie, cheat, steal, prostitute yourself and covet those who wear the finest clothes and get into the most exclusive nightclubs and restaurants? Or, do you thank God for what little you have, while praying for those who are destroying the fabric of our society? One way will raise you to the heights the world has to offer. The other will raise you to the heights heaven holds for those who serve the LORD.

Either way, you will be humbled. As the old Fram oil filter commercial said: “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” One way or the other, you are going to pay for your life choices.

When you play this forward to modern times, then you understand what Jesus meant, when he said what to watch out for. Can you see holy looking men and women that are “tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on the shoulders of others [Christians raised to think the Laws were etched in stone]; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them”?

Are political challengers not interpreting Scripture in ways that seek to destroy all links between Christianity and American laws, through the pollution of the representatives who sit on the seat of Washington D.C.?  Jesus pointed out the writers of law (the scribes) and the enforcers of law (the Pharisees) were in no way holy, because they did not talk to God.  When they used holy Law as their excuse for leadership, then they were repeating what Moses had brought down from the mount to the people.  The long-standing fairy tale of the United States of America was it was founded as a nation of Christians (Protestants), who (collectively) did not want a King or a Pope sitting on the seat of Law in the New World.

Then non-Christians began elevating themselves into the government of the people, for the people to become as screwed as were the Jews of Judea and Galilee, when Jesus pointed out this is not preventable.  It is the common way of the world.  It is the way things will always deteriorate, degenerate, corrupt, and disintegrate, when led by self-serving men and women.

Moses spoke to God and then Moses passed on what God demanded to those who listened to Moses.  The Judges of Israel who sat on that same seat of holy Law did the same thing.  David did it with the help of Samuel.  Elijah, Elisha and other Prophets helped other kings, with less and less compliance to what God demanded.  Those holy people all  spoke holy Law  – the Word of the LORD – and then the people did what they wanted.

When Jesus said the scribes and the Pharisees were making up interpretations of holy Law, while quoting God’s Commandments, they were creating huge burdens for God-fearing Jews.  By saying, ” they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them,” the key word to understand is the Greek word “kinēsai,” which means “to move,” as “to set in motion, excite, stir up.”  That says the written laws of Jerusalem, enforced by the lawyers of Jerusalem (the Disneyland police), never helped any typical Jews be inspired by explanations that said “God will reward you,” coming from anyone who said they sat on the “seat of Moses.” It was always demand more money and threaten punishment for sins.

Today, little has changed.  Who can be “moved” by a government that is in gridlock because two parties hate one another?  The members of Congress sit on the seat of legislative laws, which do little to “lift a finger” to cut taxes, guarantee health, welfare, and safety of the citizens; although they will pass benefit packages for themselves, none of which are commonly available for “regular folk.”

The Judicial Branch is petitioned by lawyers and law checkers, challenging any right to actually legally punish cities that break Federal laws, because local ordinances have been written that are contrary (approved by local voters).  Lawsuits have forced judicial reason to justify removal of monuments that are representative of Judeo-Christian faith, justify a redefining of marriage (which went unchanged for millennia prior) to meet modern needs, and to justify the killing of babies while people scream for the preservation of the lives of heinous criminals.  It has become a hate crime to defend America as a nation standing for Christianity, if that means trying to keep those who hate Christians out of America.

Jesus was not telling the crowd nor his disciples to rise up in rebellion and overthrow a world gone to the dogs.  Nope.  The world is the homeland of sin.  It will always find a way to rewrite the laws that makes good stand out of the way of evil.  Jesus was simply pointing out how you cannot be led by any human, no matter how big they smile, how fancy they dress, and how much of the world they promise can be yours.  People always talk a good game; but then they play by the rules they make up as they go.

You can only do what God’s Law says; and that means looking within, not without.  The only role model to follow is Jesus Christ, who fills one’s Mind, through the love of God.

If you listen to your heart, you know Jesus is talking to you when he said, “Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” They are hypocrites, which means “actors” and “pretenders.”

Ron & Jerry

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