(Fr Regie, MSP)
The idea of being great comes along differently to most of us depending on our life’s orientation. To some, we’re great if we are successful, being on top of others, famous and strong, never showing weakness. The influence of the secularist mentality reinforces our prideful desires and motivations in our hearts. What the Scribes and Pharisees display as external signs of their greatness is what Jesus denounces in our Gospel reading this Sunday (Matthew 23:1-12). “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honour at banquets and the front seats in synagogues, of marks of respect in public…” These are symbols of greatness during that time which Jesus wanted to correct. Driven by these desires, the gap between what is truly in their hearts, their intentions and motivations and their behaviour becomes wider. “Their words are bold but their deeds are few.” They preach but they do not practice.
There’s a way of greatness that the Gospel promotes. “The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.” Here Jesus clarifies that the motivation of doing something is not centred on the self but on pure service of others. This is the stark contrast of what Pharisees and the Scribes did in the Gospel. It is true that we have our human need for affirmation. While it makes us feel the value of our person, Jesus does not want us to focus on ourselves that leads us to hunger for recognition and grow proud. He makes it very clear what this radical view of ourselves and others must be: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” The virtue of humility is missing in the Scribes and Pharisees. Yet, it is as much as challenging in our culture today.
How does the virtue of humility look like? Humility is not putting ourselves down. It is not self-depreciation but rather self-honesty, a realistic appraisal of ourselves in relation to God, grounded in the awareness of our limitations and shortcomings in the presence of the divine perfection. We recognize who is the Creator and who are the creatures, who is the Savior and who are the saved. What surprises us, however, is God’s revelation of his divine humility in Jesus Christ. Jesus humbles himself for our sake, to serve us and lead us to salvation, to wholeness. A beautiful hymn on the “kenosis” (self-emptying) of Jesus is recorded in the letter of Paul to the Philippians (2:5-11). This is the pattern of greatness God has revealed to us and would like us to learn in this life. We just had celebrated the Solemnity of all the Saints. They show us the example of the true greatness, serving God and his people without counting the cost.
Saint Paul in the Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13) shares with Christian community of Thessalonica his sincere and pure motives in proclaiming the Word of God to them. He is also glad and praises God for them who receive his message “not as as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God at work within you who believe.” Paul’s concern in bringing the good news is that God may be glorified in them and not to gain praises from the people. He understands very well that his identity is in Jesus and everything he does is his humble and grateful service to God. His is the contrary to his fellow Jews- the Pharisees and Scribes in the Gospel who look for recognition and doing less to serve and care for others. We are reminded again that when we choose to turn our back on God, not getting in-touch of who we really are, we risk to have pride rather than humility to drive our thoughts and actions. Jesus shows us the way to greatness, it is the way of service and humility, the way of Jesus.