T HE GREATEST AMONG YOU WILL BE YOUR SERVANT. WHOEVER EXALTS HIMSELF WILL BE HUMBLED, AND WHOEVER HUMBLES HIMSELF WILL BE EXALTED. An immense amount of human energy is regularly expended in seeking recognition in one form or another. Titles of honor are sought after avidly by persons of various ambitions. Governor, President, Senator, Judge, Professor, Doctor, General are but the more commonly used appellations, distinguishing their possessor as a personage of a certain position in society. There are, of course, excellent reasons for assigning such names to particular attainments and functions, and it is not only vain ambition that strives to achieve such distinction. Such offices as attach these titles to themselves are of decided and proved benefit to society. Jesus, in fact, presumes there will be distinctions of grade among his apostles. When he spoke in an earlier chapter of Matthew's gospel of one who would occupy the first place, he takes for granted that such a position exists. "Let the one among you who wishes to be first be your servant. (20:27)" A community where there is a first and a servant is hierarchical in nature. St. Paul well understood Jesus' point here when he affirmed to Timothy that the person who seeks the position of overseer in the Church does well, provided he desires it so as to be useful to others and contribute to the common good.
Our Lord was not preaching in a social vacuum. Jesus spoke more than once to his followers concerning the use of such titles as "rabbi" and "abba" as well as of those practices and attitudes of men who were actively opposing his efforts to reveal the truth of God's ways of salvation and the dispositions essential for receiving that revelation fruitfully. Nor was Matthew, as he was writing these words, intending them for some ideal congregation. He had in mind the situation of his own Judeo-Christian community who were exposed to the manner and style of the Pharisees who had become even more hardened in their resistance after the resurrection of Jesus in the face of the spreading of his teaching. Neither did our Lord, as St. Matthew presents his doctrine here, have in mind the poor and devout of the land who called the head of their household "abba" when he forbad the use of that title. After all, as St. Luke tells us, Mary, Jesus' own mother, used this name of Joseph, Jesus' legal father: "Your father and I have been looking for you in sorrow."
The point our Lord and his evangelist intend to make here is summed up and underlined by the closing words of today's passage: THE GREATEST AMONG YOU WILL BE YOUR SERVANT. This truth has far-reaching and practical implications for each of us. The more we strive to put it into practice, the more we discover how deeply it penetrates into the fundamental dispositions we bring to bear not only in the exercise of those positions of authority which we might occupy in society, but in our manner of employing our knowledge and skills and possessions. We soon discover that it bears upon our ways of treating all those we encounter in our daily life. Here in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist we are reminded that this teaching of Jesus was given it fullest expression in his passion and death, just as the corollary that WHOEVER HUMBLES HIMSELF WILL BE EXALTED was exemplified in his resurrection. For he, who was in the form of God, humbled himself for our sake, even to the death of the cross, is now exalted at the right hand of the Father where he intercedes for us in our deep need. May our communion with him in this sacrament, provide us with the grace we require to take on the mind of Christ and to serve him with all confidence in his love.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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