Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

This month, we will return to the Revised Common Lectionary texts and begin a new series with the Bishop’s arrival in Advent.

This Sunday’s text is particularly challenging for religious leaders. While Jesus is not uncharacteristic in his critique of the Pharisees, this particular text hits home for many Clergy. But the core lesson is clear: do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because you’ll be noticed for doing the right thing.

Matthew 23:1-12
1Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples, 2“The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. 4For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes. 6They love to sit in places of honor at banquets and in the synagogues. 7They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’

8“But you shouldn’t be called Rabbi, because you have one teacher, and all of you are brothers and sisters. 9Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. 10Don’t be called teacher, because Christ is your one teacher. 11But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who lift themselves up will be brought low. But all who make themselves low will be lifted up.

Consider these questions:

  1. While it may be natural for some to appreciate positive attention, consider times when you may have actively sought out that attention. How did you seek out this positive attention?
  2. Jesus’ instruction also touches on the use of titles (like Doctor, Professor, etc.). What do you think about these titles? How important are titles to you? If they are important to you, why?
  3. Where is your primary source of learning? The Internet? The Bible? Conversations? Books? Some other source?

Post-sermon follow up on 11/7

Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found by clicking this link (will open in a new tab).

After posting this initial preview, I changed the name of the sermon to “Do as I Say, Not as I Do.” This seems to fit much better with Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders of the time, and – quite frankly – fits with the ways that people of faith are often critiqued by the “nones” and “dones” (the religiously unaffiliated).

Our motivations matter. When religious leaders in Jesus’ time were called by honorifics, when they wore phylacteries and tassels, when they were offered visible places to sit at special meals and worship gatherings, were these leaders humble or did they revel in the attention? Jesus did not critique these practices themselves, but those whose motivations were at odds with God’s instruction.

Consider these questions:

  1. What is something you’ve done that has gained attention? How did that feel?
  2. What was the initial purpose for the thing you were noticed doing?
  3. Did you ever do that same thing again? Were your reasons for doing it the same as the first time, or because you might get noticed again? Or both?
  4. How do these questions inform choices you might make in your faith life?


  1. Patty Riddle

    1. This is such a hard issue for me. My upbringing instructed not to be “prideful,” but one can go to the other extreme and run yourself down to the point where friends get annoyed always having to assure you that you are fine and/or good at something.
    2. My sister feels it is important that women with PhD’s insist on being called “Doctor” – so people would take them seriously. I don’t really disagree with this, but I found this uncomfortable and asked my students to call me either “Dr. Riddle” or “Pat.” I switched to “Patty” when I retired; it seemed like a friendlier name.
    3. Reading books and good magazines, conversations with knowledgeable people, and good PBS programs.

  2. Bruce Baraw

    1. In the introduction, it says “While Jesus is non uncharacteristic in his critique of the Pharisees”. What is meant by “non uncharacteristic”? Is there another way to say this?
    I am confused.

    2. The third question asks about the source of our learning. Does this refer to all of our learning, or only our religious and spiritual learning?

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