Religious Fashion Shows
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behaviour. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people manoeuvre you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
“Don’t do as I do, do as I say!”
Just occasionally - this is what my mum said when I pointed out she’d done something she’d told me off for: “Don’t leave dirty cups in your room!”; “Don’t cross the road till the lights have changed!” To be fair, she was half-joking, and pretty embarrassed to be ‘caught out’, and when I grew up, I realised how hard it is to be a good example to other people, (and how annoying it is when your kids chat back!)
Jesus was talking about people who had set themselves up as the authorities on how to live, and they didn’t seem to care much about what sort of example they set as long as other people did what they said. The harder they made it for the people they expected to follow their rules, the more power and attention they got – and that was what they really loved.
We’d probably all agree that if you’ve got a job where you tell other people what to do, you should “practise what you preach”. We’d agree that before you put yourself up for a role like politician, teacher, police officer, priest or school prefect, you should make sure you can live by the rules you uphold for others. But suppose you want to be a famous footballer or a singer? You wouldn’t be telling people what to do, so you can do what you like and enjoy your success, can’t you? Well, we often only hear celebrities described as “role models” when they’ve done or said things that could have a bad influence on people. It’s too late then, so if you’re planning to audition for X-Factor, remember that the more famous you get, the more people want to be like you, so it’s more important to set a good example.
But what about those of us who aren’t famous, and who don’t have ‘influential’ roles? Do we know who is looking to us for an example of how to live a good life? If we think we’re just someone nobody really notices, we need to step back and think about it. The way each of us acts – even when we don’t think we’re being noticed - has an impact on other people – for good or bad. That means we need to be a good example to others all the time – and that’s really hard, but we have to keep trying!
Suppose we find we’re managing to live the way Jesus taught us, and we’re blessed with a gift for inspiring others – like the disciples. Something to be proud of, surely? Through his words to the disciples, Jesus tells all of us not to get above ourselves: to remember we’re all equals and that God our Father and Jesus his son are our true leaders. We have to keep our feet on the ground, and remember who we owe our success to. If we put ourselves on a pedestal, or let other people build us up, we’re heading for a fall, because we’re all human, and humans make mistakes, do stupid things, commit sins. Getting all blown up with our own importance is no good for anyone, no matter how fancy a job they have, or how famous or popular they are.
Remembering we are all children of God, and that all of us have human frailties, will make us kinder and more understanding to each other. Even when we make mistakes, if we’ve set an example of kindness and simplicity, we can hope to be forgiven by the people we’ve hurt, as well as by our merciful Father.
On the first day of November, we celebrate the feast of All Saints. Don Bosco said that we are all called to be saints, and he gave this advice to Dominic Savio:
"The way to be a saint, Dominic, is to be always cheerful, do your duties to the best of your ability, and give your classmates good example."
It's not a bad plan for all of us!
Salesian Communications Worker
God our Father
Help me to do my best.
When I want to take the easy way,
show me how to take the right way.
Guide my actions so I set a good example to others.
When I get things right, don’t let it go to my head.
And when I get things wrong, forgive me.