Humility in Service

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

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

If hope and confidence are crumbling,
When all our prayers seem denied,
Take heart, it’s just a little humbling
To keep us from the sin of pride.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 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 ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:1-12)


In today’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples to obey the teachers of the law 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 maneuvered 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.”

It has been noted that 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 group leader, unit leader or director, that without being fully aware of it, a sense of self-importance in the community or brotherhood can set in. Christ never suggested that leadership in His Church entails privilege. On the contrary, He had 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 growth, we may still 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 a spiritual subject, we must at once guard against Satan’s praises that our ‘teaching authority’ deserves respect from our peers. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” As I struggle daily to find the messages behind the daily Gospel readings, and then meditate to write down these reflections, I remind myself that this privilege is a grace from God, not the product of my own talent, and this ministry 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, leadership 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 Your Name. Amen.

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