Over the last couple of days, we have heard Jesus speak in parables to the chief priest, scribes and Pharisees. In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus criticizes the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees in much more direct terms.
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.”
I’m guessing if we look around, we can find many examples of people behaving like the scribes and Pharisees Jesus criticized. I’m also guessing that if we examine our own behavior, we can find examples of the same.
Jesus offers a clear instruction as an alternative to the behavior he criticizes: “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 Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humility is not a trait that is particularly valued in our society. Rather, we live in a society that prizes a lot of things that have to do with the self: self-reliance, self- confidence, self-expression, self-centeredness. We talk about my achievements, my talents, the things I have earned. We prize our ability to take care of ourselves, to run things according to our own vision and plan.
But Jesus calls us to a humility. First in recognizing our dependence on God, our “one Father in heaven.” Second in our dealings with each other.
As challenging as is the command to love one another with the radical love that Jesus shows for all of us, I think the command to be humble is equally challenging. It is not about forcing ourselves to behave in a particular way. It is about internalizing the reality of our relationship with God and with one another.