Humility and Social Order

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

November 5, 2023 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 23:1-12

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I have a special set of memories about church life. One of them connects with today’s gospel about humility and the social order. Jesus was bothered about the way those in high positions used their status to gain certain privileges. My memory goes back to a time when I was invited to give a presentation on family spirituality in a midwestern diocese. The diocese had a facility which served not only as offices for the diocese, but some of the diocesan staff lived there. I was offered a guest room for my stay.

Late one night after my arrival a small group of us were gathered in the kitchen when the bishop of the diocese walked in. He had been on the road visiting parishes and was returning to his own residence in the diocesan center. After exchanging greetings, he mentioned to the group that he was hungry. He then went to the refrigerator, took out a couple of eggs and proceeded to make himself a plate of scrambled eggs. No one lifted a finger to help him. They knew he would not allow that. In his mind they were all equals. Notions of hierarchy and clericalism were set aside.

About that same time, a very influential book by Robert Greenleaf was published about what he described as “servant leadership.” In his mind, genuine leaders positioned themselves as servants in the community. You might recall a not-well-known description of the pope as the “‘servant of the servants of God.” My guess is that Pope Francis is aware of this “title.” Servanthood is central to his view of his role in the church.

Jesus was very aware of how position and power might be closely connected. He lived in a country occupied by the powerful Romans and the Jewish religion of his time had its own power structure. Against those systems of authority, he taught that in God’s eyes all were equal. Everyone was valued by God. All are created by a loving God and destined for life with God forever.

When I was a child, I imagined heaven as something like a large auditorium or stadium. The holiest would be in the front rows and those of lesser holiness were further back. I remember learning that if I were assigned a seat in the bleachers, I still would be happy.

No longer do I have those images of heaven. To be honest I have no idea about positions or levels of importance in the next life. But now, if I find myself now in a situation where I can choose the front of the line or the back, you’ll find me toward the back. With Jesus.

David M. Thomas, PhD  

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