Humble Greatness

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Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For 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. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Opening Prayer: Lord God, the teachings you impart are profound. Send forth your Holy Spirit who can guide me to interior understanding.

Encountering Christ:

  1. Authority Has Its Place: The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’s time occupied seats of authority and Jesus told the people to obey them: “Observe all things whatsoever they tell you.” Their leadership was not to be questioned, even though they gave scandal by their actions: “They preach but they do not practice.” We can apply this lesson in our day to church leaders who have sadly caused scandal by their actions. Our Lord promised that the “gates of hell will not prevail against… the Church” (Matthew 16:18). We are to obey the tenets of the church—“doing what they tell us.” But we are not asked to endorse, excuse, or in any way follow their example. Instead, we pray fervently for them, and for the purification of the whole church.
  1.  “All Their Works Are Performed to Be Seen”: In many areas of our culture, people perform works to be seen: in politics, on Parisian runways, in movies and the theater. Some works are meant to be entertaining, but we detect quite easily when someone is “showing off” or seeking attention—and it’s difficult to watch, isn’t it? We naturally avoid people who make themselves the center of attention. The Pharisees’ highfalutin ways were symptomatic of their deep interior emptiness. In the center of their hearts, they sat themselves on the throne intended for Our Lord. When Our Lord is properly seated on the throne of our hearts, our need for affirmation from others is well-ordered, not extreme. We’re not show-offs. Our good deeds are cloaked in humility and oriented toward the good of the other.  
  1. The Greatest: “The greatest among you must be your servant.” When we read this line of Scripture, it can lose its potency because we’re so familiar with it. Consider how Jesus’s listeners might have interpreted his directive. Scripture tells us that servants washed feet. Servants made their owners’ lives more comfortable (Luke 17:8). Servants did what they were told (Luke 7:8). Serving others in our lives rarely involves feet washing, but Jesus clearly invites us to surrender our will to God’s–to do as we’re told– so that we can be a blessing for others. 

Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, teach me to think more like you, to “think on what is above” (Philippians 4:8). The last shall be first, and blessed are the poor in spirit. Help me, Jesus, to be more humble.

Resolution: If the circumstance arises, Lord, today by your grace I will cede a point to someone, humbly admitting where he or she is in the right.

For Further Reflection: Read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s delightful and profound novella The Little Prince, to learn about being humble and focusing on what matters in life.

written by Br. Erik Burckel, LC

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