November 2 Reflection

21st Sunday after Pentecost (November 2 2014)
Actions Speak Louder than Words

Matthew 23:1-12


Lee Joon-seok is the 68-year-old captain of the ferry that capsized in South Korea, in April, in its regular voyage. In the recent development of the case, the prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Lee and some of his crew-members. Lee and his crew-members left the ship when it dangerously tilted and started sinking. Their negligence was made worse by allegations that they abandoned the ship after giving order to all passengers to remain in their cabins. 304 of the passengers, mostly school children, were either dead or missing in the tragedy, causing a national grief in South Korea.[1]

Unfortunately, this was not the first time that a captain left behind his sinking ship and its passengers. Last year we were shocked when we heard the news how Francesco Schettino, the captain of Italian liner, Costa Concordia, abandoned the ship after it hit a rock. Captain Schettino and his senior crew-members left their passengers behind as they tried to survive the sinking liner. 32 people died in the tragedy.

Indeed, the revered old adage: the captain goes down with the ship, has seemed to become simply a revered old myth. In many cases of sinking ships, the captain and his crew were often some of the first people who abandoned their ill-fated ships, leaving behind the other passengers to meet their fate.


There were exceptions though. Captain E. J. Smith of Titanic did perish with his ship. He ordered that women and children should be let to go first into the lifeboats. Danish Captain, Henrik Kurt Carlsen, and Italian Captain, Piero Calamai, also refused to leave their sinking ships before all their crew and passengers were rescued.[2] But many people argue that they were more of an exception rather than a rule.

Indeed, what people claim as their value in life may not be the same with what they actually do in real life. In our reading in Matthews Gospel today, we hear how Jesus criticised the same kind of hypocrisy in his own time. 

Unlike the common misconception, the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law in Jesus time were not bad people. They were actually some of the most respected people in the Jewish society.

During the time when Israel was under the rule of the Roman colonial power, and their Jewish identity was being eroded and challenged by the predominant Greek culture, the Pharisees tried to keep the Jewish tradition and culture intact by strictly observing the Jewish rituals in their daily life. During the time when peoples life didnt mean much unless they were part of the ruling elites, like the priests or nobles, the Pharisees tried to bring meaning back into the life of ordinary people. The Pharisees tried, at least on the surface, to make ordinary people felt that they were significant members of society by asking them to follow strict obedience to the Jewish law and join their ranks.

But Jesus somehow saw that there was a misalignment between what they preached and what they did. By teaching ordinary people to follow strict regulations to obey the Jewish law, the Pharisees may have acted as if they were trying to make ordinary people felt more valuable in their life. The reality, however, was different.

While there must have been some Pharisees who were genuinely trying to help ordinary people, other Pharisees recruited other people only to boost their ranks and make themselves felt more important. Many Pharisees put more burdens into the life of ordinary people, but they didnt offer any helps to ease the burdens. By strictly following and obeying Jewish rituals, many Pharisees acted as if they were glorifying God by their action. But their obedience was actually aimed to amass praise to themselves.

So Jesus was not against the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law per se. He was not against their teaching or their intention. What he was against was the hypocrisy that some members of the Pharisees and some Teachers of the Law had shown. Indeed, in the end of the day, everyone will be judged not by what one says, but by what one does.

Roy Morgan research had finished conducting their Image of Professions Survey for 2014.[3] They asked people aged 14 and over to rate different professions in regards to their ethics and honesty. Out of 30 different professions that they surveyed, the top three professions that people regard as the most honest and ethical are: dentist (3), pharmacist (2), and doctor (1). Well, I guess you really need to trust your dentist and doctor before they subject you to different kinds of torture procedures. The lowest ranked professions are: real estate agents (28), advertising people (29), and car salesmen (30). Their ranks were even lower than state and federal politicians (25 an 26 respectively).

I dont think the survey means to say that all car salesmen are bad. I believe that there are still plenty of honest car salesmen out there who have their costumers interests in their heart. But, we can also hear peoples concern about the number of people who were involved in these professions who often were not true to their words.

I guess Christians and the church are not free from this kind of scrutiny either. As a matter of fact, Minister of Religion is the biggest loser this year, slips 7% to number 14 below accountants and lawyers! The slip was the result of the recent sex scandals that engulfed many Christian churches. Indeed, the church can always preach about being loving and kind and caring towards other people, but unless it actually does what it preaches, then other people will never judge it favourably.

Today, we say a promise that we will look after the children in our midst. Through the symbol of water, baptism is the way we publicly say and show Gods love and our love to a child like Emma. But unless we actually show in our life that we truly care for the children in our midst and children outside of this church, than our words, including mine, will become empty.

We need to align our life with what our words. Thats the only way we can enter into the Kingdom of God and invite other people to join us. Amen.


[1] Ju-Min Park, South Korea Prosecutors Seek Death for Captain of Doomed Ferry, on (Mon Oct 27, 2014 12:01pm EDT)

[2] Jacquie Kubin, The Costa Concordia: The Captain Is the Last Man to Leave A Sinking Ship, on (Friday, January 20, 2012)

[3] Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2014 on (April 11, 2014)