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.’
Jesus said: All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
We live in a society that places great value on hierarchy. Whether we are supporters of the monarchy or not, our nation exists within a regime that respects and values a system that radiates out from just one figurehead, our King or, as it has been for the past seventy years, our Queen. Of course, it is more complicated than that. The ways in which constitutional and political powers interact have evolved over the centuries, arriving at the hierarchical pyramid that provides the construct for our national life as it is today. But … it is more complicated than that!
It is a common feature of any hierarchy that those lower down the social ladder strive to improve their status. It is a common human trait that we seek a level of recognition that does not go with our real place in the world. We indulge in the political chicanery that is often referred to as ‘spin’, as we portray ourselves in a more flattering light than is really the case. Perhaps we claim a more superior social standing because of our tenuous association with someone who is generally recognized as being higher up the social scale. Perhaps we assume the superior façade of an improved accent or expensive clothes in order that we might stand out from the crowds in which we find ourselves. No matter what strategy we may adopt for inflating our status in the eyes of others, today’s reading makes it clear that we are aligning ourselves with the misguided scribes and Pharisees, and not with Christ.
The Christian calling is one of humble and loving service. Those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ have a duty to place themselves at the back of the queue, at the bottom of the social ladder. This teaching flies in the face of our modern dog-eat-dog way of living. But, Christians are called to stop elbowing others aside in order that they might be seen as the best, the strongest, the richest, the most important. Christians are called to be where the greatest need exists, and then to make a difference, even if accident of birth has placed them naturally at the top of one of society’s organisational hierarchies!
Let us pray that we might be Christ-like in the way we live a life of humble love and service. Let us pray that we might set aside our desire to be honoured and respected in order that we might focus our energies on shining the light of Christ into the dark places of this world.