Did you ever read scripture and suddenly understand more than what you thought was there? I was reading Matthew 23 and it occurred to me that Yeshua was addressing something specific to his time. But we have distorted and lost its meaning, building whole theologies on a piece of the truth.
In Matthew 23:8-9, Yeshua says, “But you are not to let yourselves be called ‘Rabbi’; because you have one Rabbi, and you are all each other’s brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘Father.’ because you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”
With this piece of truth, we stopped calling our leaders “Father” and began harassing our liturgical brethren, saying they are wrong for using this term. Instead, we use terms like ‘pastor’ or ‘elder’ to refer to our leaders. Did we not read verse 10? Yeshua says, “Nor are you to let yourselves be called ‘leaders,’ because you have one Leader, and he is the Messiah!”
Looking at these verses alone, we shouldn’t have ‘fathers’ or ‘leaders’. In fact, verse 9 clearly says, “do not call anyone on earth ‘Father’”. Does this mean we shouldn’t call our biological fathers ‘Father’? Is that what our Messiah was saying?
No. Instead of focusing on one or two verses, when we know a little history of the Second Temple Period, and read the scriptures surrounding these few verses, we come up with a completely new understanding, seeing the whole picture.
In Yeshua’s time, there were many sects of Judaism – Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes, to name a few. For varying reasons, these groups of people splintered into different factions, with most trying to gain a larger following. So when Yeshua addressed problems with these sects, he was not simply talking about a specific terms, but a specific issue – the splintering his people Israel.
In their pursuit of having a bigger following and gaining more respect, they left behind humility; they left behind the weightier matters of the Torah. This is what broke our Messiah’s heart; this is what caused him to pronounce all those woes, to call the leaders “blind guides”.
How different are we today? We all started out as a sect of Judaism, called ‘Christians’, and ended up with over 30,000 sects of Christianity! Have we not become just like them?
Some of us are so worried about ‘straining out the gnats’ by not calling anyone ‘Father’ that we left behind mercy, grace, and truth. Others are so concerned about the size of the flock that we are no longer humble to see that they might be wrong about an issue; we are no longer teachable.
Does this mean that we don’t love God? Not at all. It simply means we are focusing on the things that separate us, things that make us look more important, more correct, rather than seeing the big picture.
What is that big picture? We are all each other’s brother, and should be servants to one another, not looking to be puffed up, not focusing on what separates, but what brings us together as one – our Messiah Yeshua.
If we don’t get this right, I suspect when Yeshua comes back, he will have a thing or two to say to us, just as he did the leaders of his day.