The pressure to conform is very great. We need to belong. We need to feel accepted. Whether it is the group that we are born into or a group that we choose to belong to, we are influenced by what others think of us. So it’s not surprising that the motivation behind much of our behaviour is the desire to impress others. We don’t try to impress everyone, but we do try to impress significant people in our tribe, community, class, peer group, business association, political party, sporting team or church. We get satisfaction by being thought well of. But listen ! The alarm bells are ringing. Jesus drew attention to the scribes and Pharisees of his time saying, “They do all their (religious) deeds to be seen by others.” They relished the esteem with which they were held in the community, but they were not helping people to carry their burdens – the burdens they laid upon them through their legalistic attitudes. Jesus lived in a vital relationship with God his Father and he invited his disciples to live similarly. Rituals and worship were meant to help us relate to God with loyalty, devotion, commitment and love. They were not meant to be show pieces whereby we impress other people with our piety or morality. This desire to impress is self-centred. The desire to be the centre of attention, honoured and respected by the community is ego boosting, but we are called to walk humbly with our God in faith, hope and love. This calls for conversion, a radical change of attitude. It calls for repentance, the recognition that we have been on the wrong track and the readiness to live in that vital relationship of trust and obedience with God to which Jesus invites and through his Spirit empowers. The Church is not called to seek public acclaim, but it is called to serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in humility and in love.
• Give examples of ways in which people try to impress others.
• How much of our life in the church is preoccupied with trying to impress others?
• How do you reconcile, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) with Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees: “They do all their deeds to be seen by others”?
• Matthew 23:12 could be rendered: when God remakes the world all who exalt themselves will be humbled. What other changes could you imagine in God’s re-made world?