In our message series leading up to Advent called, More Than Lip Service: Living Out An Uncomfortable Religion, we’ve been taking an honest look at some of the uncomfortable statements made by Jesus in the gospel readings.
This week Jesus thunders against Israel’s religious authorities because they have not been faithful to their calling. Although they sit on the stone presider’s seat at weekly liturgies, called the “chair of Moses,” they are hypocrites, according to Jesus. They make their religious authority more of a show than real substance. In desiring places of honor and honorific titles, the scribes and Pharisees lacked the humility that is essential for ministry.
“All their works are performed to be seen,” says Jesus. For instance, they wore extra large “phylacteries,” or boxes containing scripture passages attached to their foreheads and left arms. They also lengthened the tassels of their prayer shawls, called tallits. The tassels, or tzitzits, consisted of a single blue strand to remind Jews to observe the 613 commandments of the Mosaic law. Presumably, the scribes and Pharisees did all this in order to call attention to their ostensibly strict observance of the Torah. The basic problem was that they showed “partiality” in their decisions, according to the prophet Malachi, by treating certain individuals and situations with greater respect and deference than others.
The uncomfortable message for us is that Christian discipleship requires personal integrity. We cannot preach but refuse to practice. We cannot pray on Sunday to God and prey on our neighbor the rest of the week. Compartmentalization of work and family, religion and politics, public and private life is the enemy of integrity.
The word “integrity” stems from the Latin root “integer,” which means whole and complete. Integrity therefore requires consistency of character. A person of integrity behaves in the same way in various situations, at different times, and towards all types of people.
Most of us sincerely desire personal integrity. The failure to prioritize values, however, often makes integrity elusive. When we fail to make worship of God on Sundays, time for family, and service to others a priority, we will never be able to achieve integrity in our lives. The chase after lesser goods, such as money, honor, and entertainment, inevitably will turn us into hypocrites. What we value as Christians and how we think, speak, and act will never converge until we are clear about what is important in life.
Throughout this message series, we have been emphasizing the need to stay connected to Jesus, like a branch on a vine. We “remain” in him by obeying his commandment to love one another as he has loved us. That requires a fundamental shift in our thinking from consumer to disciple.
A consumer acts erratically because tastes change and the fundamental mission of the consumer is to acquire that which he or she desires at the moment. On the other hand, a disciple acts with integrity because love of God and neighbor is a timeless value and the fundamental mission of a disciple is to serve, after the example of Christ and at his command.
Father Roger Gustafson