Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Power and authority as humble service (Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent, Mt. 23:1-2)

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 Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

* * * * * * *

Jesus once again reminds his disciples that his way and understanding of power and authority is not the way nor the understanding of the world. Power and authority for Jesus is humble service of God and neighbor, not an arrogant lording over subordinates. This was something so unique that it took his disciples a long time to finally understand it. After all, their model of leadership and authority were the scribes and the Pharisees, who as Jesus observed, had no hesitations burdening others, but refused to be burdened themselves.

A true leader, in Jesus’ mind, is not one who made his people carry heavy yokes without carrying one himself. Rather he is one who not only refuses to burden his people, but actually helps in alleviating whatever difficulty and hardship they might be experiencing. Humble service is the way of Christ, and should be the way of every one who seeks to follow him. It is an idea which the world to this very day, finds unacceptable if not ridiculous. The arrogant kind of power easily awes many who find it more attractive than Jesus’ alternative. Especially in a world where competition can be fierce, many would rather trample on others before its done to them.

Jesus warns us against this attitude, for it is a sure recipe for discontent. In it’s place he proposes that we regard one another as brothers and understand that we have but one Father who is our teacher as well as our Lord.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)