THE RELIGION OF OSTENTATION
They perform all their actions to be seen by men. They broaden their phylacteries; they wear outsize tassels. They love the highest places at meals, and the front seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the market-place, and to be called Rabbi by men. You must not be called Rabbi; for you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one upon earth father; you have one Father–your Father in Heaven. Nor must you be called leaders; you have one leader–Christ. He who is greatest among you will be your servant. Anyone who will exalt himself will be humbled; and whoever will humble himself will be exalted.”
The religion of the Pharisees became almost inevitably a religion of ostentation. If religion consists in obeying countless rules and regulations, it becomes easy for a man to see to it that everyone is aware how well he fulfils the regulations, and how perfect is his piety. Jesus selects certain actions and customs in which the Pharisees showed their ostentation.
They made broad their phylacteries. It is said of the commandments of God in Exo.13:9: “It shall be to you as a sign on your hand, and a memorial between your eyes.” The same saying is repeated, “It shall be as a mark on your hand, or frontlets between your eyes” (Exo.13:16; compare Deut.6:8; Deut.11:18). In order to fulfil these commandments the Jew wore at prayer, and still wears, what are called tephillin or phylacteries. They are worn on every day except the Sabbath and special holy days. They are like little leather boxes, strapped one on the wrist and one on the forehead. The one on the wrist is a little leather box of one compartment, and inside it there is a parchment roll with the following four passages of scripture written on it–Exo.13:1-10; Exo.13:11-16; Deut.6:4-9; Deut.11:13-21. The one worn on the forehead is the same except that in it there are four little compartments, and in each compartment there is a little scroll inscribed with one of these four passages.
The Pharisees, in order to draw attention to himself, not only wore phylacteries, but wore specially big ones, so that he might demonstrate his exemplary obedience to the Law and his exemplary piety.
They wear outsize tassels; the tassels are in Greek kraspeda (GSN2899) and in Hebrew tsiytsith (HSN6734). In Num.15:37-41 and in Deut.22:12 we read that God commanded his people to make fringes on the borders of their garments, so that when they looked on them they might remember the commandments of God. These fringes were like tassels worn on the four comers of the outer garment. Later they were worn on the inner garment, and today they are perpetuated in the tassels of the prayer-shawl which the devout Jew wears at prayer. It was easy to make these tassels of specially large size so that they became an ostentatious display of piety, worn, not to remind a man of the commandments, but to draw attention to himself.
Further, the Pharisees liked to be given the principal places at meals, on the left and on the right of the host. They liked the front seats in the synagogues. In Palestine the back seats were occupied by the children and the most unimportant people; the further forward the seat, the greater the honour. The most honoured seats of all were the seats of the elders, which faced the congregation. If a man was seated there, everyone would see that he was present and he could conduct himself throughout the service with a pose of piety which the congregation could not fail to notice. Still further., the Pharisee liked to be addressed as Rabbi and to be treated with the greatest respect. They claimed, in point of fact, greater respect than that which was given to parents, for, they said, a man’s parents give him ordinary, physical life, but a man’s teacher gives him eternal life. They even liked to be called father as Elisha called Elijah (2Kgs.2:12) and as the fathers of the faith were known.
Jesus insists that the Christian should remember that he has one teacher only–and that teacher is Christ; and only one Father in the faith–and that Father is God.
The whole design of the Pharisees was to dress and act in such a way as to draw attention to themselves; the whole design of the Christian should be to obliterate himself, so that if men see his good deeds, they may glorify not him, but his Father in Heaven. Any religion which produces ostentation in action and pride in the heart is a false religion.
Back to: Barclay’s Commentary