Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. -Matthew 23:1-11

I have been ensconced in this passage for the last week.  It seems like I keep coming back to it.  At first I was drawn to the word “phylacteries.”

“The leather boxes of the tefillin contain scrolls of Torah passages, specifically Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21. These passages command Jews to bind the word of God on their bodies.

“And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8)

Certain Jewish groups, including probably the Sadducees, and definitely the medieval Karaites, understood the command to be figurative: that one should always be preoccupied with words of Torah, as if they were in front of one’s eyes. The Pharisees, however, took the text literally: the words of the Torah are to be inscribed on a scroll and placed directly between one’s eyes and on one’s arm.

Today, observant Jews wear tefillin both in literal obedience to these Torah verses and to remind the wearer of God’s commandments.”

It struck me.  What phylacteries do I wear?  Jesus wasn’t angry at the use of phylacteries.  I’m pretty sure He’s all about knowing the word of God and following it. It was the showy use of religion in order to promote one as holy without any internal change.  How many times a day do I use my faith as a show for others?  Am I striving for a life change, or just behavior modification?  Because I know that if I truly allow myself to be swept up in the radical arms of Christ, there’s no way I can be content with behavior modification.  Many days I crave the sweet fragrance of Him.  There are also many days that I find myself caught in the shell of Christianity.  Do I still do things because I truly believe that is what I am compelled to do in the light of Grace, or do I do things because they maintain the image that “good Christians” are supposed to portray?  Some days, it’s more of one than the other, but most days it’s a combination of both.

The next time I read the passage, I was drawn by this part of the passage:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.”

Another stab at wearing my legalism for all to see.  How much do I love the title of honor?  I distinctly remember the sense of pride when I first became part of the crowd that “does ministry.”  I followed my Christian musician boyfriend with great pride.  Talk about a dangerous place to be in!  Since then, I have been greatly awakened to the dark side of what I do.  I have been ashamed to be a part of a group that has damaged and broken people, distorted their views of God, and made them generally afraid of following Christ.  Most days, again, I’m in a balance between the two, trying to convince people that I’m not someone that you have to be afraid to speak around, but also a person who you can confide in.  However, through all of this, I have still been proud to be called “teacher and minister.”  For the first time in a long time, I have been truly humbled over what I do.  For years, I have felt a right to do what I do.

But you know what?  I have no right.

I am beyond broken.  There is nothing— NOTHING— that I bring to the table.  There’s no talent or skill that I have that makes God look at me and say “wow, good thing I have April.  I sure couldn’t do THAT on my own.”  What a laughable concept to think that I have anything to offer!  I’ve forgotten that I live a life of servitude in constant gratitude to the wonderful work of undeserved grace in my broken, wretched life.  Truly laughable.

Honestly, I’m sorry to you.  I’m sorry for those that I have snobbishly treated with less than the most kindness I can possibly muster.  I’m sorry for my human moments where I forget to treat you like Christ would.

My phylacteries are wide and my tassels are long.


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