Humility in Service

Matthew 23: 1-12
Isa 1:10,16-20 / Ps 50: 8-9,16-17,21,23

The greatest among you must be your servant.
(Matthew 23:11)

Let me not seek fortune or fame,
Or even the world’s highest prize;
A simple request, let me claim
Discipleship of Jesus Christ.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘master’, for you have one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:1-12)


In today’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples to obey the scribes and the Pharisees, but not to do what they did, “for they do not practice what they preach.” By transforming the Ten Commandments into more than 600 rules and regulations, they had put heavy burdens on men’s shoulders. Their faith was superficial, only for show, putting importance on the external rather than what is in the heart. Instead of looking after the spiritual needs of the people, they would rather maneuver to get places of honor in banquets and assemblies, and sought important titles, like ‘rabbi’, ‘father’, or ‘teacher.’ Our Lord denounced them for their hypocrisy and extolled those who serve as the greatest of all. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
In many religious organizations, status can clash with service. There is a need to check ourselves that our ministry is not merely status seeking. We can become so engrossed in our responsibilities as leader or director, that without being fully aware of it, a sense of self-importance in our community or brotherhood may set in. Christ never suggested that leadership in His Church entailed privilege. On the contrary, He always emphasized carrying our cross to follow Him. “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt. 7:14)

Even in our personal quest for spiritual development, we may stumble because of our sense of piety or righteousness, especially when we start comparing ourselves to others. When we are asked to deliver a talk on any spiritual subject, we must guard against the sin of pride that our ‘teaching authority’ deserves the respect of our peers. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” Or when we are able to find the meaning behind the Gospel readings, let us remind ourselves that the message that we may “unearth” is a grace from God, not the product of our own talent. Our ministry in fact is only possible because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. After all, none of us can be called ‘teacher,’ for we have but one Teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ (Mt. 23:10). We are all students, even if some of us may have the gift of teaching or wisdom.

May we never grow smug in the knowledge that we lead others in our ministry, Lord, because ‘pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Prov.16:18); help us to grow in Your example of humility in service to be worthy of You. Amen.

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