1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Meditation: Who doesn't desire the praise and respect of
others? We want others to see us at our best with all of our
strengths and achievements - rather than at our worst with all of
our faults and shortcomings. God sees us as we truly are - sinners
and beggars always in need of his mercy, help, and guidance.
Misguided zeal and pride
Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees, the teachers and rulers of Israel, to teach and serve their people with humility and sincerity rather than with pride and self-seeking privileges and honor. They went to great lengths to draw attention to their religious status and practices. In a way they wanted to be good models of observant Jews. "See how well we observe all the ritual rules and regulations of our religion!" In their misguided zeal for religion they sought recognition and honor for themselves rather than for God. They made the practice of their faith a burden rather than a joy for the people they were supposed to serve.
True respect for God inclines us to humble ourselves and to submit to his wisdom and guidance. We cannot be taught by God unless we first learn to listen to his word and then obey his instruction.
One Father and Teacher
Was Jesus against calling anyone a rabbi, the Jewish title for a teacher of God's word (Matthew 23:7-8), or a father? The law of Moses in Scripture specifically instructed all fathers to be teachers and instructors for their children to help them understand and obey God's instructions (Deuteronomy 6:7)? Why did Jesus rebuke the scribes and Pharisees, the religious authorities of the Jewish people, in the presence of his disciples? Jesus wanted to warn both his own disciples and the religious leaders about the temptation to seek honors and titles that draw attention to ourselves in place of God and his word. Pride tempts us to put ourselves first above others.
The Scriptures give ample warning about the danger of self-seeking pride: Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:24).
Origen (185-254 AD), an early Christian teacher and bible scholar, reminds those who teach and lead to remember that they are first and foremost "disciples" and "servants" who sit at the feet of their Master and Teacher the Lord Jesus Christ:
"You have one teacher, and you are all brothers to each other...Whoever ministers with the divine word does not put himself forward to be called teacher, for he knows that when he performs well it is Christ who is within him. He should only call himself servant according to the command of Christ, saying, Whoever is greater among you, let him be the servant of all."
Respect for God and for his ways inclines us to humility and to simplicity of heart - the willing readiness to seek the one true good who is God himself. What is the nature of true humility and why should we embrace it as essential for our lives? We can easily mistake humility as something demeaning or harmful to our sense of well-being and feeling good about ourselves. True humility is not feeling bad about yourself, or having a low opinion of yourself, or thinking of yourself as inferior to all others. True humility frees us from preoccupation with ourselves, whereas a low self-opinion tends to focus our attention on ourselves. Humility is truth in self-understanding and truth in action. Viewing ourselves honestly, with sober judgment, means seeing ourselves the way God sees us (Psalm 139:1-4).
A humble person makes a realistic assessment of oneself without illusion or pretense to be something one is not. A truly humble person regards oneself neither smaller nor larger than one truly is. True humility frees us to be ourselves as God regards us and to avoid falling into despair and pride. A humble person does not want to wear a mask or put on a facade in order to look good to others. Such a person is not swayed by accidentals, such as fame, reputation, success, or failure. Do you know the joy of Christ-like humility and simplicity of heart?
Humility is the queen or foundation of all the other virtues because it enables us to see and judge correctly, the way God sees. Humility helps us to be teachable so we can acquire true knowledge, wisdom, and an honest view of reality. It directs our energy, zeal, and will to give ourselves to something greater than ourselves. Humility frees us to love and serve others willingly and selflessly, for their own sake, rather than for our own. Paul the Apostle gives us the greatest example and model of humility in the person of Jesus Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and... who humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8). Do you want to be a servant as Jesus loved and served others? The Lord Jesus gives us his heart - the heart of a servant who seeks the good of others and puts their interests first in his care and concern for them.
1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Whoever humbles himself will be exalted, by Chrysostom, 347-407 A.D.
"For nothing is as crucial as the
practice of modesty. This is why he is continually reminding them
of this virtue, both when he brought the children into the midst
and now. Even when he was preaching on the mount, beginning the
Beatitudes, this is where he began. And in this passage he plucks
up pride by the roots, saying, 'Whoever humbles himself will be
exalted' (Luke 14:11). See how he draws off the hearer right over
to the contrary thing. For not only does he forbid him to set his
heart upon the first place but also requires him to follow after
the last. For so shall you obtain your desire, he says. So one who
pursues his own desire for the first must follow after in the last
place: 'Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'
"And where will we find this humility? Go to the city of virtue, to the tents of the holy men, to the mountains, to the groves (ascetics who live holy lives). There you may see this height of humility. For these persons, some illustrious from their rank in the world, some having had wealth, in every way put themselves down, by their dress, by their dwelling, by those to whom they serve. As if they were written characters, they throughout all things are writing the story of humility." (quote from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 72.3)