“The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)
Today’s Gospel is a call to holiness and humility. In the reading, Jesus is quite critical of the scribes and Pharisees who have been bestowed a high authority yet do not serve humbly. Jesus warns of leaders like this and asks that we “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” It's quite striking because Jesus asks that the Jews respect the authority of the Pharisees who have “taken their seat at the chair of Moses,” but warns them against doing as they do because they do not practice what they preach.
The motivations of the Pharisees were to gain human honor and favor. As Jesus puts it, “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.'” Unfortunately for the Pharisees, earthly honor and favor does not last for eternity when done for the wrong reasons.
Unlike the Pharisees’ practice, we are all called to faithful obedience to the Lord. We should seek to please the Lord alone rather than seeking the praises of men. Even more importantly, Jesus calls us to serve and lift others to help them seek the Lord. Sometimes, our prideful ways tempt us to put ourselves before others. Jesus calls us to serve others with humility and sincerity rather than to seek self-promotion. May our genuine words and actions be living testimonies of Christ through humility, poverty, patience, and obedience. We demonstrate these small acts of service best when we show them to others through our actions. As St. Francis beautifully puts it, “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”
Jesus perfectly demonstrates how we should serve. He is our one teacher we are to give ourselves to. If our motivations for serving are to simply “look good,” we must seriously reflect on our motives. If we humble ourselves to serve God’s will and bring others closer to Him, truthfully and authentically, in all we do, we, too, may be exalted. This is what God asks of us.