I know that ranting is a popular thing today. Many talk show hosts have their rants, one of the seminars at the Convention I just attended was about a rant; and this from their president. But in Matthew 23, Jesus has a rant. I suppose His rant would be a decent rant to pay attention too.

There is much to say about His rant, but one part caught my eye for the first time this morning. Maybe it is because Jesus uses a word that's not English or culturally relevant...who knows. In verse 5, speaking of the Pharisees, Jesus says

Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long
I'm sorry...a phylacterie? Is that some kind of disease?

I noticed that the word had a little superscripted a next to it. So I looked down at the bottom of the page and saw
That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm.
Then it hit me. Of course Jesus makes points like this clear in other places, but visualizing these leaders, the teachers of God's word, actually wearing boxes on their arm or head to hold little verses of scripture, made it crystal clear. They would wear scripture on their body, but wouldn't follow it! Jesus called them hypocrites.

So...what about me? I know I do it too, I don't wear any Christian t-shirts, or bracelets that quote some passage and then not follow it, but I do have God's word even closer to me. I have some memorized, in my heart, and yet, I choose to do otherwise. I guess I'm pretty glad that God has grace!


  1. Amen for God's grace.

    Sadly, there often times seems to be a great distance from our chest (t-shirt) or our head (phylacterie) to our heart.

  2. The Phylacrerie came from the Jewish culture out of Duet. 6:8 "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." In context of teaching God's commands, and impressing them on your children. The Jews did this Literally, but as you mentioned it made no difference. Keeping the letter, missing the point.

  3. A Phylactery is essentially a small box with compartments. The box was made of leather and part of a "head band" or strap. I believe Jesus' rant was consistent with others of his--he had many--in that he railed against Religious Symbolism: false outward demonstrations of righteousness that draw attention away from the inherent filth of the soul.

    Every generation before and after has its phylacteries. They are manefestations--or idols, in their essence--of gross misunderstandings of what God really wants from us: only our faith n the saving work of Jesus' death and ressurection. The Pharisees were recognized Holy Men. They were so impressive at it that they had hteir own club at the top of the spiritual echelon. They were admired by others who could not attain such self-discipline. They knew the scriptures like no one else in their society. They memorized incredible amounts of the Law, and would swear up and down that they followed all the laws.

    Where the Law was "odd" they followed it the best they could. The Law said to "bind my words upon your foreheads" so they made little tie-on boxes to hold slips of paper with inscriptions of the Law on them agisnt their foreheads. Without the boxes, no one could know if the Pharisees were following that Law, too.

    There's a picture of Phylacteries excavated from Qumran, the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls here.

    By the way, the Apostle Paul--Christianity's number one guy for revealing that the Law leads to death, and grace frees us from death (both in this life and in eternity) was trained as a Pharisee, of the highest order. He came from that lofty position to become the one understanding so much about what Christ was really all about.

    We have our own Phylacteries today. Bumper stickers; t-shirts, WWJD bracelets, The Fish symbol, crosses and crcifixes (I often wonder what people would wear around their necks if Christ had been killed by electrocution: a tiny electric chair?), and even in church, to some I would ask what is the motive for standing and raising ones hands, or repeating lines of a song with varying degrees of volume, tempo, or enthusiasm? Stop me if my opinion starts to show.

    Jesus ranted that the Pharisees were so sparkling clean on the outside, but were nothing more than "whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones"--a damning accusation that would make them reel. By the Law they were cursed for even touching dead men's bones.

    The Pharisees were so full of crap, they even made little additonal laws to embelish the existing ones. They decided for example that one could not spit on the ground on the Sabbath, because it would make mud, and making mud was work, and "you shall not work on the Sabbath." However, it was okay to spit on a rock.

    I think Jesus was "in their face" on this one when he healed a blind man by spitting on the ground and making mud, then healing the man, by rubbing the mud on his eyes--and then telling the man to go wash in the river (more work!!!) Since all of this was unnecessary for Jesus to perfroma healing there must have been something behind it. As usual, it would probably be "deeper meaning."