Matthew 23:1-12 (ESV)
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus turned to those who listened to his Q and A sessions with the religious leaders and told them the religious leaders taught true things, so all should follow those things, but no one should follow the leaders themselves, as they don’t practice the things they preach. In fact, much of what they did was to be noticed by others. They made their phylacteries wide and their fringes long. Phylacteries were small boxes which contained copies of select passages of Scripture and were tied to the arms or even the forehead. The fringes on their robes represented the Laws of God. By lengthening the fringes, the Pharisees and scribes wanted others to know how serious they were about being obedient to the Law. The places of honor, the best seats and the greetings by others that Jesus spoke of, all referred to the Pharisees and scribes feeling superior to those around them. They honestly thought they were better, and they expected others to treat them as such. Jesus said those listening should not be called “rabbi.” Since rabbi means teacher, was Jesus saying no one should be called teacher? No. Rabbi, used here, meant one exalted above the crowd. Teaching wasn’t the problem. The same was true of calling another “father.” Jesus was calling out those who put on an attitude of supremacy over others in the name of religion.