Matthew 23:1-12 – Hero Worship?

superhero 1Reflecting and Doing

This quiz game helps us to explore how our heroes are real people with just as many faults and flaws as the rest of us, and this includes Christian leaders.

Print out some full-face pictures of well-known people from modern culture and from history, like Henry VIII and Princess Katherine. Then print out some full-face pictures of super-heroes, like Spiderman and Wonder Woman. You can include a full-face photo of your minister as well, if you like.

Glue the pictures together around three edges with a hero on top and a well-known real person underneath. Make sure that the two layers are separate over the actual images.

You can have a quiz to find out who the real people behind the masks are. Talk about image, and how we only see the best side of people, the mask, when underneath they are just ordinary people, just like us.

Invite volunteers to come up and tear off a section of the upper image, revealing a part of the face below. People can then guess who is behind the mask.

When the full face has been revealed, you can say that even the famous person is still a mask, and that there is a real person that we do not see behind that face. The pop star who gets acne and picks their nose, the handsome hero who has smelly feet and never buys a round, the hated tyrant who is an excellent pianist and a good father.


Heroes. We all like heroes. We like to look up to them, to follow them on Twitter, to ‘like’ them on Facebook and to emulate them. In the reading, Jesus was watching some of his day’s heroes and warned the crowds not to emulate them, because they weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Who are our heroes today? And who are our villains?

In Britain, Nov 5th is Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night when we celebrate the foiling of The Gunpower Plot of 1605, a Catholic conspiracy to blow up protestant King James I. Traditionally, the bonfire is topped with a dummy of the man caught guarding the gunpowder. (Except at St Peter’s School in York, where it is not considered the ‘done thing’ the burn an old boy.)

But who was Guy – a tragic martyr to the true faith or a terrorist hell-bent on destroying democracy? Depends whom you ask. The protestants won the day (and therefore wrote history) so we celebrate the arrest of a traitor, but for Stuart-era Catholics, he was a hero –  though, like all heroes outside of comic books, it’s more complex than that.

This week at college we’ve been talking about some heroes of the protestant tradition – Martin Luther from the Reformation and Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Nazi Germany – and they too, were ‘more complex than that’. In fact, for me, they’ve both been knocked off their pedestals somewhat. But don’t worry, I’m not thinking of burning them in effigy or anything. They’ve just become a bit more human. And that’s no bad thing.

Because they shouldn’t have been on pedestals in the first place.

Now of course, Luther’s Preface to the Romans will always be famous (it’s not just a bonfire that can make us ‘strangely warmed’). He brought remarkable clarity to Scripture and loads of other good stuff, but did you know that some of his writings, particularly in his last years, were rabidly anti-Semitic? And I mean seriously bad, like ‘burn their houses’ bad? It was a bit of a shock.

Towering figure of Reformation? Yes, but with feet of clay, as we all have.

With Bonhoeffer we were looking at his thoughts on community and – I shudder to remember my audacity – I disagreed with him. Yes, I know. How very dare I? There I was, sitting around a seminar table with bishops and ministers from around the world, with them all nodding over Bonhoeffer’s wise words, and I was disagreeing.

It wasn’t a huge issue. I felt he made too sharp a distinction between all-negative ‘kata sarka’ and all-positive ‘kata pneuma’ (life according to the earthly nature and according to the spirit). But I was more shocked that I thought this great theologian had got it wrong. The cheek of the girl!

However, his thoughts on being disillusioned were spot on. It’s good (he said) to become disillusioned as quickly as possible, because only then can we start to see the real person. It’s like when we move from ‘in love’ to just plain old love. Not so exciting, but vital for survival.

Of course, it works the same with hate. When an enemy becomes a real person instead of a caricature of evil we see their features as well as their flaws. (Did you know that Hitler was a talented artist?)

This week, I’ve become disillusioned with Bonhoeffer. I’ve become disillusioned with Luther. And those are both good things, because my previous pictures of them were both illusions. They probably still are, but hopefully a little less idealistic.

Back in 1605 there were plenty of heroes, and anti-heroes, being put up on pedestals and on spikes (which way round depends on your point of view), but real people don’t belong on either. Not German theologians, not zealous Catholics, not modern-day Jihadists or Bible-times Pharisees.

Let’s take a step or two back, and dare to disagree with our heroes and – perhaps – occasionally agree with our enemies?


Matthew 23:1-12 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised

Jesus Denounces Scribes and Pharisees

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 practise 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 broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 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.


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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