Updated: Jan 30
I used to drive a package car for U.P.S. United Parcel Service had, at that time, such a reputation that they did not advertise in ANY way. This included nothing on the drivers’ uniforms (hat excluded) that said “UPS.” It was just a plain brown uniform – shirt and pants – both “UPS brown,” which was all the customer needed to see to know who we were.
The package car, also UPS brown, had the only evidence that a driver worked for that company, as applied to each front side of the vehicle was the gold U.P.S. shield. If you wore a cap (which I did not), there was a UPS gold shield on the front of those. That was the extent of their advertising back then.
Each driver is trained to approach a delivery and shout out, “UPS!” That gets attention. People come meet the driver some times, saving them steps and time. People do that out of respect for the name of the company and the uniform the drivers wear.
On my route, which was largely rural, I had one really big business. It was a clothing manufacturer, one that produced men’s suits and shipped them all around the country. It was a big place, with a dock in the back that had room for four tractor trailers. The dock was always full, so there were often ready and waiting tractor-trailers left idling along the gravel perimeters of the shipping zone, waiting for their turn on the dock.
I say the dock was always full because for the first half of each business day that manufacturer was very busy shipping and receiving – basic suit materials in, and finished suits out. Still, until I came in the morning – in my small U.P.S. package car (in comparison to normal U.P.S. package cars and much smaller than a huge trailer) – one dock position was left open. It was left open for me to back up to it, so I could deliver however many packages I had on my vehicle for that company, shipped through U.P.S.
I remember one day sliding all the packages for that delivery on the dock and then hopping up on the dock to record them all on a paper pad with my Bic pen. There were three tractor trailer drivers sitting in three folding chairs lined up along the wall, with each driver waiting for his turn to get a dock position. They were all fine, country-raised gentlemen, with each seeing an opportunity to tell a young U.P.S. driver how special he was.
“Oh, there is the special one that they reserve a dock spot for. So glad you could drop by and not have to wait … like we have been,” one said.
“I hear you U.P.S. drivers all got big fat Teamster raises last year. I used to be a Teamster, but that company got run out of business. Could you spot a brother a few bucks?” another asked.
“Look how this business sends someone to help him. They pick up all the boxes and move them for him. We have to unload our trucks AND put it where they want it,” the last one said.
I finished recording all the package numbers, asked for and received an official signature, and then left … walking by the lineup of chairs with the tractor-trailer drivers who were ribbing me. I saluted them as I walked by, without saying a word.
I tell you this story because I, personally, did nothing to warrant that special behavior. Years, even decades of grooming by managers, supervisors, customer service reps, and trained drivers before me had conditioned that company to suspend its standard method of doing business and favor United Parcel Service.
I was given a position of honor because of my predecessors, without having to do anything myself, other than show up and reap the reward. I enjoyed the reward, even took it for granted and depended on it, because I had to get those bulky suit packages off my little truck before I could begin my route. Since I could not wait in line, like a tractor-trailer driver, I would have had to do many times more work, in order to make that delivery by walking a couple of the packages at a time up the steps to the back door, then recording each package, until everything was delivered. That would have been exhaustive work; but I did not have to face that. Favoritism made my job easier.
In the Gospel reading today, we hear how Matthew remembered Jesus telling the crowds and his disciples that being a Jew was like being a typical tractor-trailer driver, one who has to work for a living. Jews had to wait in line like the next guy … first come, first served.
That means in this reading we should understand how Jesus was telling them that being Jewish did not mean God had left a dock door left open, waiting only for them. A Jew still had to do what it took to deserve a chance, an opportunity, to make the most of what opening came available.
Because it was Jesus telling his followers and listeners – who were all Jewish then – his instruction about expectations of special favor then means us, as Christians, need to hear the same advice as if it were intended for us. It is intended for us.
Jesus is then saying, “Being Christian is not some fancy suit you put on that makes people stand by in awe. Being Christian is not some club you join so you can get special recognition when you stop by big time suit manufacturers. And, being Christian is not a guarantee to get free coffee and doughnuts at Krispy-Kreme.”
In other words, being Christian is MUCH MORE than saying you go to church somewhere, and that you believe “in Jesus and God.”
Now, it is easy to get confused by Jesus telling the crowds and disciples to watch out for “Scribes and Pharisees.” When you look around you do not see any of those here, or in the local environment.
Raise your hand if you are a “Scribe or Pharisee.”
<pause to count hands>
See? No such people are here today. But, how are “scribes and Pharisees” to be translated from an ancient Jewish setting, so we can recognize them in a modern Christian society?
The key to answering that question comes from what Jesus said next. He told those who were listening, “Do whatever they teach you” about the Law, about the Scriptures, about the verses – such as, “Go ahead and memorize things like “The Lord is my shepherd” and “Our Father who art in Heaven.”
Do all those things that the Holy Bible says to do. To do that, you have to first learn what that is.
Is there anyone telling us to do what the Holy Bible says to do today?
Certainly there are. They are all around us. I am one. You should be too. In that sense – as Christians – we should all be able to write about and interpret what it is we say we believe. We become the equivalent of scribes and Pharisees.
So, what is the problem today that becomes a reflection of the problem then?
Again, look at what Jesus said. He told the students, “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.”
We have plenty of people telling us what we should be doing, but not that many who are actually doing as told … demonstrating what doing means. This is not only the preachers who place the guilt of sin on everyone’s back, while wearing a collar or robe or high hat, as if they are not just a normal human being underneath all that garb; but, it is someone wearing overalls too, if that one begins casting a condemnation of sin on someone else, based on words written in the Holy Bible.
Anyone with a lot of guilt heaped upon their shoulders needs help with not sinning, more than they need condemnations for being a sinner added to their guilt. Sinners don’t just need words of guilt, because they can read the words of the Bible books and figure out for themselves that result. Instead, sinners need demonstrations showing them how to remove all the guilt of sins; BECAUSE we are all naturally born sinners.
These days, there seems to be a trend to accept sin. That becomes a way for removing the guilt that sin brings, as far as reclassifying something that used to be a sin to something acceptable, no longer being heaped on one’s shoulders to bear.
Oh? You do this sin that preachers used to say would send you to hell? Well now, we don’t say that is a sin any more. After all, who are we to go loading up your shoulders with guilt over something that you probably can never stop doing? Heck, most of you with huge personal guilt were born with a predisposition to sin … some unknown genetics thing … so it is natural to sin that way. Go ahead!
When you hear that, you are forgetting that Jesus said, “Do whatever they teach you and follow it.” In order to justify that modern, self-serving approval of sin, one has to back-up genetic waivers with Scripture that says any form of sin is approved, and therefore comes without guilt.
The problem is twofold, as I see it. First, there is a whole lotta preaching going on with not a whole lotta explaining. If you are going to preach, you have to teach. If you are going to learn, you have to apply yourself to the teaching. Simply because you sign up for a class that comes with a textbook (call it Bible Reading 101) does not mean you automatically make the grade.
Second, there is a whole lotta skipping of step one. Teaching requires having actually learned something well enough to teach that which has been learned. However, as it was in the days of Jesus, the teachers were more self-proclaimed readers than bona fide experts.
Simply because no one had truly applied themselves, Jesus found unskilled, hired hands watching over the flocks. Today, the same problem exists. Without true teachers, everyone just jumps ahead to, “We’re all saved because we believe in Jesus and he died for our sins.” We think that because we read it in a book.
When you take that approach to Christianity, you pull up to the dock expecting a dock door to be waiting on you. All the special privilege is yours, because of all the work done by Jesus and a long list of Apostles and Saints. Just come on in and walk by the lineup of regular folk who have to actually show patience and do all the hard work to get in.
In the words of Dana Carvey, when he would play “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live, “Well, isn’t that special?”
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, saying, “As you know, 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.”
Did you catch that word?
“Father?” The Apostle Paul and his co-teacher friends “dealt with each one like a father with his children.”
Raise your hands if you are a father of a child or children.
<look for raised hands>
Did being a father ever mean doing no work at all? I doubt it.
Did it mean getting up in the middle of the night to calm a crying baby? Did it mean years of hard labor at some job or profession, so you could earn money to provide for the child’s upbringing? Did it mean worrying and wondering, “Did I do enough training and teaching, so my baby can grow up and walk on its own two feet?”
We are all God’s children. God is our Father who art in Heaven. God watches all of us down here, each child bearing a huge load of guilt on its shoulders, and He knows which ones are applying themselves to the lessons of His word.
They apply themselves by going to school and listening to the teachers; but beyond listening, they do homework and personal projects. They apply what they hear and read, through personal acts and experiences.
As such, all those who teach us can never call themselves “instructor.” The only “instructor” is the “Messiah,” or the “Christ.” That is not the human man that was Jesus; but the Holy Spirit within, which Jesus Christ will advocate for us to receive.
You see, you become the “instructor” when you are able to walk on your own two feet. When all that the Father has sent for you to learn has become a part of your nature, then you become a child of God, with the Mind of Christ.
You cannot observe how holy people feel inside, seeing what motivates holy acts. You can interpret the actions of others as holy; and you can try to mimic such acts, pretending to be holy, imagining other people will see your good gestures as divinely motivated. No good act goes unnoticed, but be careful not to be doing good for self-serving reasons.
You cannot be found longing for all the things that you think accompany the acts of a holy person, thinking being holy deserves earthly favoritism.
God’s favoritism means hard work, with exhausting hours, day in and day out, at all times. You can only maintain this schedule if God has sent you the “instructor” within, and removed all the burden of guilt from past sins, from an application called penance.
Certainly, you will find no dock doors open just for you, and that will make you humbled. However, all who humble themselves here will be exalted in the end.
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