Jesus’ statement here is a strong one. One that is applicable today. A preacher, priest, bishop, pope, minister, reverend, guru, rabbi, imam or any other type of ecclesiastical teacher whose focus is upon gaining the authority, prestige, admiration, followers and the acceptance of others is not to be accepted as a representative of God or Jesus - regardless of their uniforms or titles. Should their intention be upon their own success along with many followers - they seek their own glory, not God's.
Jesus clarifies that these fake teachers will go to great lengths to make themselves look official. A phylactery was a box containing scripture verses. It was worn on the forehead or arm. A wide box was one containing many scrolls. The rabbis were keen on impressing others with their scholarly authority. The rest of their clothing was also focused on impressing upon others their advanced positions. Like so many of today's ecclesiastical teachers, they made sure that where ever they were, people would recognize their position of authority.
Then, like many ecclesiastical teachers of today, they also demanded special seats and enjoyed being given attention in public. They enjoyed the power of having people address them with humility and awe.
This is the epitome of our disease. We want others to worship us. Whether it is being recognized as an Olympic gold medal winner, a CEO, a doctor, a movie star, a bestselling author or political leader, it is the same desire. We want the respect and admiration of others.
Just look around, or turn on the TV. So many of us are working so hard to carve out our little position of respect. As some of us realize we'll never be the president, a doctor, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, we begin to look for more practical positions of authority and respect such as a supervisor at work or a mother or father - positions that we can command respect and authority over a smaller group of people.
For some, having the position of preacher, priest, bishop, pope, minister, guru, imam and so on offers that position of authority. In these positions, at least one day a week, they get the pulpit and reign over their little kingdom. In their positions, they are offered respect, admiration, and prestige.
And we can also see how these positions are never satisfying. Regardless of how high we go on the ladder of authority, power and prestige, it is never enough. For those who are senators, they want to be presidents. For those who are managers, they want to be CEOs. For those who are movie stars, they want to win an Oscar and/or be a greater star or even governor or other powerful position. For those who are priests, they want to be a bishop or cardinal - or even pope. For those who are mothers and fathers, their children are not enough. They want to be grandmothers and grandfathers. In these ways, we want to extend our authority, because the authority we currently have is never enough: Because authority does not satisfy us.
This means two things: Number one, having a position of authority is not our natural position. If it was, then we would be satisfied with whatever authority we have.
Number two, it means that we never actually have real authority. The authority is an illusion. There is always someone greater. We never reach the ultimate position of authority, no matter how hard we try.
Why? Why do we seek admiration, power and authority and never really achieve it? Because we each desire ultimately to be God.
We have become jealous of God. Rather than worship and serve God, we want to be the center of attention. We want to be served. We want power and prestige, because we want to be God.
God knows this. This is why He put us in this physical world, and into these temporary physical bodies. This is like our little sandbox: to play out our desire to be Him.
God has arranged all the trappings for us to play out our desires, and each of us chooses our own method: Some of us go for making money and becoming wealthy. We figure if we have the wealth, we’ll get power and prestige. For others, it is a particular role or position of authority, including positions within communities, industries, religious groups, social groups and/or families. All of these provide positions arranged within the physical world for us to exercise our quest for power and authority.
This is God's method to teach us. He is allowing us to play these roles for a period of time in order to allow us to see that power and authority are not satisfying. He wants us to realize that we will never be happy unless we resume our natural positions as His loving care-givers and playmates.
This progression is seen quite easily among some of the world's most wealthy people. After struggling for many years to become rich and powerful, the billionaires are still not satisfied. Many then turn to philanthropic activities, because they begin to feel more satisfaction in giving and helping others. They are slowly realizing that our natural function is not to have authority, be respected and be served: Our natural position is to love and serve. What they may or may not realize is that ultimately, our natural position is to love and serve the Supreme Being.
And this is what Jesus was teaching:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)