The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach.
We’ve probably both given and been this advice ourselves in the course of our professional or personal lives. Being able to look to someone as an example of integrity has certainly been an important part of my own journey. For the hearers of Matthew’s Gospel keeping the commands of the Torah roots them in God’s promise of steadfast love (hesed). The faithful Jew can pray that Torah is ‘light for my path’, ‘freedom for my heart’ and ‘honey on the lips’ (Ps 118). Psalm 118’s extended meditation on Torah sees the law as blessing and not burden.
When Jesus holds the Pharisees to account he is challenging the quality of their faithfulness. How far have they internalised the commands of the Torah? Has their teaching brought blessing or burden?
The smooth running of a monastic community relies on the the faithfulness of all of its members. Living by the Rule of St Benedict means that we have a source of ancient wisdom which shapes our values. Like any ancient text, it is open to interpretation. A punctilious following of the Rule doesn’t necessarily bring about the virtue you think it should. Everything is to be tempered with mercy and an understanding of the frailty of humanity. Commentators on the Rule suggest that one of the goals of a monastic is to become ‘a living Rule’. This is an image of integration where head, heart, soul and strength work as one.
Jesus calls the Pharisees to integration. He calls us too. One of the signs of that integration is being able to make Christ’s disposition our own:
The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
Where are you called to grow in faithfulness through service this week?