We all know by now that Jesus is a not a big fan of the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus lists a litany of things at which the Pharisees have failed. Jesus says over and over again that the Pharisees, as rulers over Israel, have failed in their mission to be servant leaders. That makes his statement at the beginning of Matthew 23 all the more curious.
Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.
Thus, Jesus says, that while God’s authority is with the Pharisees (while they sit on Moses seat), they must be obeyed, despite their faults in practice. This shows us several things:
1. There was Authority to teach in the OT and it was passed down from Moses to the Pharisees, from generation to generation, from the Exodus until the coming of Jesus.
2. Sins, bad acts, human failings, all those things DO NOT remove that authority from those to whom it has been given.
3. Even those in authority my fail or even be corrupt, the people are still bound to follow the authority that God has placed in the religious officials.
Now, remember Matthew 16, Jesus says that he will give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and that what Peter ‘binds on earth, shall be bound in heaven’. Thus, after the resurrection authority will be transferred from the temple to the Church. The chair of Moses will be transferred to the chair of Peter and the same rules will apply. Authority can and is handed on by the Apostles to their successors the Bishops. No mistake or sin made by a Bishop or other Church official, no matter how shocking or disconcerting it may appear to us, can remove that Authority. After all, in the same passage where Jesus gives Peter authority He says, “… and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Church Jesus founded has authority. No other church can. Just as Jesus admonished the Jews that even though the Pharisees acted corruptly they were still bound to follow their teaching, so are we as Christian, bound to follow Christ’s Church. We must do as they say, even when we cannot do as they do.