Intention: For a spirit of compassion and generosity among all who are able to share what they have with others, especially with those who are most in need.
Today’s Gospel | Matthew 23:1-12
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.”
A Lenten Reflection
Words are powerful things. They can inspire and express both the best and the worst in us. Take, for example, this seemingly innocuous word: “better”. Simply, it describes a degree of improvement over a previous condition. It is considered a constructive and helpful word, especially for complimenting or exhorting others’ personal growth or progress. And yet, this word can also be the focus of some of our most negative and dehumanizing behavior.
The problem begins when the idea of improving one’s self becomes a competition for power and reward. Arrogance and selfishness pervert the meaning of better when we place ourselves above others and view them as inferiors. In Matthew’s Gospel, we see the scribes’ and Pharisees’ quest for holiness turn from “becoming better” into “becoming better than”, self-righteously elevating themselves over those who they were, in fact, supposed to be serving.
Ernest Hemingway wrote, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Jesus taught that wanting to be better must always be grounded in humility as we realize and accept our need for God and for one another. As persons whose lives are inextricably bound up in those of others, there is no weakness or self-effacement in being humble. There is only honesty, an unblinking openness to who we are – and who we are not — in the eyes of God. The time of Lent calls us to learn, as writer David Richo suggests, that “humility means accepting reality with no attempt to outsmart it.”
Eternal Father, your son humbled himself to be one with us, even to know suffering and death. In this time of Lent, we ask you to deepen our desire to imitate his example. May we have the courage to stand firm as disciples and servants, to decrease when others should increase, and to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, and humility. Guide us as we walk with you every day in simplicity and humility, striving to be channels of your love and mercy. We ask this of you who lives and reigns with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.