The greatest among you must be your servant. Matthew 23:11
In today’s gospel, Jesus urges us not to be like the scribes and Pharisees because they aren’t sincere in their lives. “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” Jesus is telling his followers that the religious leaders of his day worked hard to follow rules and look devout. Their faith was practiced for show, with longer prayer tassels than others and making their phylacteries – the prayer boxes they wore – easier for people to notice. Their pious rituals earned them places of honor at banquets and synagogues, and public greetings in other places.
But while the religious leaders preened and looked holy and otherworldly, they didn’t bother to connect with their people. Pharisees were strict about rules when work could be done and how laws were enforced, but their hearts held no compassion for those who struggled. They relished their lives of privilege and it blinded them to the suffering of others.
Am I relieved when I read this gospel? I don’t wear tassels and other public signs of our piety today so do I think I am off the hook? Or is there an echo of another Pharisee in Luke 18 who prays, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous.…”
When we stop and really open our hearts to Jesus, we can recognize once again that we are far from perfect. But the good news for us is that Jesus is not looking for perfection in us but humility and service. Jesus reminds us that we are brothers and sisters, part of the human family. He urges us to be compassionate and not to let our lives get sidetracked by the external rewards offered by our society.
Jesus invites all of us, even the greatest among us, to be a servant. We may chafe at the idea of being a servant. I don’t want to be lowly and I want to be in control in a way a servant is not. But what if we alter the way we think about the kind of service Jesus is calling us to? As we consider being a servant, we change the meaning to love.
Let us love one another.
Fr. A. Francis HGN