Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:1-4 (NRSV)
We all remember double standards as we were growing up. Kids had to be in bed by 8:30, but Mom and Dad could stay up as late as they wanted. (Now we know that Mom and Dad would have rather been in bed by 8:30 themselves, but there’s too much work to be done to go to bed that early!) Kids had to sit at the kids’ table with all the other screaming rugrats to eat holiday meals, and kids had to wait to be excused to get up from the table no matter how annoying, obnoxious and loud the other kids were. Adults got to sit at the civilized adult table, and got to get up from the table when they were done eating.
More than once I heard, “Do what I say, not what I do,” from my parents and grandparents. We know what we should do, but actually doing it is quite another thing. Nobody likes being on the short end of a double standard. Double standards offend our sense of justice.
I am sure that the people listening to Jesus that day as He was telling them to do what the scribes and Pharisees teach them to do probably were rolling their eyes. There were probably people who were thinking in the back of their heads, “Why should I listen to so-and-so about this or that rule when so-and-so doesn’t follow it himself?”
Jesus had some of his most harsh critique for the religious authorities- the scribes and Pharisees. In many instances he spoke more highly and with more compassion toward tax collectors and prostitutes than he did of those who should be living by the rules. It’s easy to tell other people what to do and what standards are expected of them. It’s not so easy to apply those standards to ourselves first.
God put His rules in place for us for our own protection, to set boundaries around our behavior so that we don’t cause harm to ourselves or others. Rules were not meant to be oppressive or punitive, but protective.
Every human being alive today is a sinner and a hypocrite, including those in leadership in the church, and in secular government. However, it is important that those who are in leadership pay special attention to the standards they wish to impose upon others. Leaders are called to be good examples and should strive to live by the standards they teach and expect of others first.
One of the important concepts of the Reformation was the realization that everyone who follows Jesus should be held to the same standards- not one set of rules for the ruling class, and another set of rules for everyone else.
If we are to look at Jesus’ example and if we are to follow Him, shouldn’t we as His followers make it easier for each other to live in ways that honor Him, rather than piling on the burdens and doing nothing to help each other?