“Who Taught You That?”

Kurt Jacobson
5 min readNov 5, 2023

All Saints Sunday

November 5, 2023

Matthew 23:1–12

Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is critical of the Pharisees. However, he is not critical of their teaching of the Law. But Jesus does them out for failing to practice what they teach even while they expect strict observance of the law by others. As people of power, the Pharisees still reap public acclaim. This draws Jesus’ ire.

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. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries (a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law) broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. ***

On this All Saints Sunday I’m remembering people who taught me about Christian faith. There are many, but none more than my parents. For me, they were larger than life saints. Who are the giants among the saints for you?

As I reflect upon my childhood and what I learned from my parents, I am remembering times when one of them would ask me: “Who taught you that?” If you have memories of being asked that question, you know it follows some action that has surprised someone. I cannot recall any particular incident that prompted one of my parents to ask that question, but I have a sense that it followed some action on my part for which there would not have been praise or laughter.

“Who taught you that? seems to be a question in today’s reading that the scribes and Pharisees were anticipating. Matthew recounts in detail, Jesus’ descriptions of the Pharisees ostentatious display of religiosity and hypocrisy. It is apparent the Pharisees and scribes have gotten so caught up in their status within the community that they merely spout off their knowledge and righteous answers without living in a way that reflects them. This is where Jesus takes issue. He calls out those who have become lazy in their ivory towers of religious authority. While their teaching may indeed be sound, they have missed the point.

Aren’t you glad you’re on the side of Jesus? But, what if, these same tendencies of the first century religions leaders aren’t so far removed from our own? Perhaps the lure of power, vanity, and arrogance that trouble Jesus with regard to these religious leaders are more universal human characteristics that we all embody, more than we’d like to admit.

We yearn for success, status, or admiration. We want others to notice our achievements. We may even believe our achievements are signs that God is smiling on us, rewarding us for our goodness. Patrick Gray says: “It is so easy to confuse our interests with God’s purposes, our power with God’s sovereignty, our standing with God’s glory[i].

After all: “human beings like to matter, to be important, to be honored. We all want to be known and loved; this is what it means to be human… We want promotions, raises, bonuses, good grades. We are the “they” — the finger points back to us because we are all human[ii].”

To these authorities in the first century, and to us, it is as if Jesus saying, “who taught you that?”

But true to his ways, Jesus calls us beyond ourselves. For the Pharisees, Jesus is pointing them to the heart of their faith which is about serving. Yet, human nature does not give itself in that direction. It isn’t difficult to get caught up in the excitement of our own accomplishments and blind to others as we beam with our own pride. This passage, though, calls us to recall that behind any of our accomplishments are the gifts of God and many of them are revealed in relationship to others.

Who taught you that? As we reflect on our own lives and accomplishments, I hope you come up with a list of people to credit. It is particularly appropriate on this All Saints Sunday to reflect on those who have made us the people that we are. One simple definition of a saint is someone who has shown us the way, often by example, and usually in a way that helps us be better people. Today we give thanks to God for the saints of our lives.

During my years of active pastoral service, I had many opportunities to be with families after a loved one had died. Every time I listened to the stories, rarely were they about achievements, successes or positions of power held. Rather the stories always revolved around how much of an impact the individual had on others, his positive example of how to live, her service to others and self-giving spirit.

Humility is a common trait among saints who give themselves in big and small ways to teach us about what matters in life. Saints model how Jesus calls us to be at the end of this text today — the greatest among us who have been servants. In recalling the saints and the gifts God gave them, we also acknowledge that God is the creator of all and in such, everything in life belong to this amazing God. Everything begins and ends with God.

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[i] Patrick Gray, “Exegetical Perspective: Matthew 23:1–13,” David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).

[ii] Jacqueline J. Lewis, “Homilectical Perspective: Matthew 23:1–12”, Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Volume 2 Chapters 14–28, Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, editors. (Louisville, KY



Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.