Then said Jesus to the crowds and to His disciples, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach but to not practice.
Matthew 23: 1-3
(From the Gospel of Holy Monday Evening)
During the Holy Week journey, we meet several “crowds” of people. There was a crowd of people on Palm Sunday who cheered “Hosanna” when Jesus passed by on a donkey. There was a blood-thirsty crowd of people who screamed five days later for Jesus to be crucified. There was a crowd of Jewish leaders who gathered to figure out how to get rid of Jesus. And there were crowds that gathered to listen to Jesus teach. And there were undoubtedly some people that were in all four crowds.
Today’s invitation is to join the crowd of people who wish to learn who Jesus is and to follow His teachings. Christ’s message was not complicated. It wasn’t an endless list of do’s and don’ts. He told us specifically to do one thing—to love. The Gospel on Holy Monday evening is a blistering attack against the Jewish temple leaders. It’s hard to read out loud in church. And I’m sure for those who will attend and hear it, it will be hard to hear. It’s not very uplifting.
It is sobering. And it is true.
Jesus castigated the temple leadership, repeatedly telling them “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” And why? Because they followed the law to a letter that pushed out love, and kindness and mercy. They promoted a strictness that no one outside of them could achieve. They looked with a critical and cynical eye, instead of a loving one.
This doesn’t mean that we throw out law and order, and “whatever will be will be.” Jesus told us to lead with love. And if we are His followers, we are to follow with love, we are to model love to others, and we are to lead others to Him by showing love.
Think of the “crowds” you belong to—there is the “crowd” of your family, the “crowd” of your friends, there is usually a “crowd” of people on the highway and in the supermarket, and at the ball field. There is probably a “crowd” of people at work. How do you sit in your crowd? In judgement? With integrity and honesty? With love?
If Jesus came and visited your “crowd” today, would He call you a hypocrite?
Think about these two statements—I love Jesus so much that no one knows I’m a Christian. And I love other people so much that people can’t tell the difference between me and someone who is not a Christian.
I’ll call myself out on this and say that there are times in my life when no one knows I’m a Christian because of the way I drive, or because I am gossiping. And there are times that people who are not Christian act in a more loving way in a situation than I do. I know there are lots of times I feel like a hypocrite, when I feel like I’m in the crowd of the Pharisees rather than in the crowd of the disciples.
Who can change that? I can. Who can change you? You can. It begins with a decision to lead with love, as Christ did. It is sustained with consistent decisions to lead with love. And the consistent decision to lead with love is bolstered by prayer, by reading Scriptures, by encouragement of others, and by our own sense of commitment and discipline.
To what end are we working? If we don’t lead with love, where is our lack of love leading us? Which crowd is it leading us to? The righteous? The condemned? To the people who will inherit the Kingdom of heaven? Or to those who will be excluded from it?
I invite you to come into the crowds who came with open hearts to learn from Jesus. For those of us who went to college, you could not have graduated if you didn’t have a desire to learn something. And for those of us who are Christians, we cannot graduate to God’s heavenly Kingdom if we do not desire to learn about Him. So, again, I invite you to join the crowd of students, the crowd who came with open hearts to learn and to grow in faith.
You have heard, o Soul of mine, how he who hid the talent was condemned. So, hide not the word of God. But instead proclaim His wonders, so that for increasing the gift of grace, you may enter the joy of your Master. (Doxastikon from Praises from the Matins of Holy Tuesday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
I invite to join the crowd of open-hearted students and come to learn more about who Jesus is, and how to lead with love.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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