Gospel of Matthew 23: 1-4, 11-12 (NIV)
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them …
11 “The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Because we are considering this passage in the context of our Federal Parliament, we might find it helpful to reflect on Jesus’ use of the term “Moses’ seat”. Having led the children of Israel in their escape from Egypt and into the desert, Moses was the sole mediator between them and YHWH. Obviously he was the leader of his people in a prophetic sense and so these words from Jesus point directly to the responsibilities not only of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees but also of leaders in our churches today.
Moses was also their leader in a legal sense and in a social sense. Through Moses, YHWH delivered the Law to his chosen people. To Moses YHWH entrusted the implementation of this divine Law. Moses alone was responsible for dispensing this Law among the people of the twelve tribes – that is, until Moses adopted a system of delegation.
On the advice of Jethro, priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law, Moses appointed leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, people who were incorruptible and trustworthy, to judge the simple disputes and less weighty matters of the Law (Exodus 18).
So in terms of governance of a people, we might see some correlation between the responsibilities of those who sat in Moses’ seat at the time of Jesus and those whose responsibility it is today to legislate and to seek to achieve justice for the people of this Commonwealth.
Jesus’ words from this passage of Scripture apply to all of us; they should be afforded special significance by all who lead and govern us:
Be careful to practise what you preach. Ensure that your own actions and behaviour are entirely consistent with the message you give to those who have elected you to these positions of high office. From these positions, your legislation can have the power to unite or to divide, to achieve justice or to be seen as discriminatory and favouring some members of society at the expense of others.
The attitude of a servant – a servant of the nation, a servant of the people as a whole and a servant of God – is urged by the One who exemplified servant leadership as faultless Son of God, bearing our sins to a criminal’s death on a cross. God in the form of Jesus humbled himself that we, despite our own weaknesses and disobedience, might be reconciled with God.
The bearer of high office is there not to be exalted among others but to be servant of others. Would you join with me in thanking God for all elected leaders: for their servant hearts and for their willingness to sacrifice family life, comfort and their own privacy and acceptance in the community in order to be of service to the nation and its people. May our God be their source of hope, courage, wisdom and strength as they continue to serve in Moses’ seat.