Jesus goes off on the Scribes and Pharisees. However, we must understand His condemnation in the context.
First, this bunch was part of the government. Thus, He offers unique advice to His listeners regarding how to handle governing authorities: Do what they say, but not what they do. Obey them because that’s how the worldly system acts, but don’t take them seriously. The Scribes and Pharisees were no closer to godly government than the secular officials we face today. Now as then, their focus is worldly and materialistic, not on eternal moral truth. Their interests bear little acquaintance to shalom.
But the resemblance between then and now doesn’t end there. Governments throughout history have loaded up those they rule with heavy burdens, yet exempt themselves in every way possible. The flavor of government and the types of exemptions vary, but it’s quite predictable. Once you understand the nature of whatever mythology drives them, you know what to expect. In the case of Judea’s Sanhedrin, it was all a matter of putting on a show. They wanted to be seen as righteous, even when they were festering lumps of moral cancer. They made up all kinds of rules about what was fashionable to wear and competed with each other, smug in their own little rarefied world that no one else took seriously.
They were easily manipulated by adulation and anyone who put on an obsequious show in public. Titles were so very important to them. Matthew doesn’t translate rabbi, which is rendered in English typically as “master.” However, the other Greek word refers to someone who is a professor or teacher. He also mentions the word for “father” as a reference to someone you admire and in whose steps you claim to follow. Jesus said we should avoid titles, neither crave them nor use them for others. In our different callings, we are roughly equal in Christ, and He is the only real rabbi or teacher, and Jehovah is our own Father.
The mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom is the one who deflects attention. Don’t tolerate someone trying to curry your favor with flowery words. Sacrifice, humility and service are the rank insignia of spiritual leadership. People who play with words that move the emotions instead of provoking recognition of truth in your heart are people you shouldn’t follow.
Don’t be a sucker for anyone who dresses too nice, carries fancy titles or who can’t be bothered with the little people. Jesus hugged a lot of smelly nobodies.