Over several Sundays, we have seen the scribes and Pharisees doing their best to undermine Jesus. Now he challenges them. Though they hold a position of respect and authority, Jesus accuses them of being hypocrites who don’t practise what they preach. They interpreted God’s Law so strictly that it was almost impossible for an ordinary working person to keep it – this is what Jesus means by ‘laying heavy burdens’ on the shoulders of the people. He also criticises the scribes and Pharisees for being too concerned about their own status. They see themselves as important people and they want the titles and privileges that go with their position.
Jesus teaches his disciples that a Christian leader should always be a servant of the community and should have a real compassion for the people in their care. Jesus himself was the best possible model of true leadership. The people flocked to him because they saw his integrity and his love for them, in contrast to the hypocrisy and vanity of their own leaders.
Pope Francis has taught us that the leaders of the Church should be shepherds who have ‘the smell of the sheep,’ living close to the people they serve. Jesus gave his life for us, and he calls us to give our lives in the service of others.