By The Rev. Sherry Deets

October 30, 2011

Matthew 23:1-12

Do as they say, not as they do. Jesus is calling the scribes and the Pharisees hypocrites. And we think to ourselves, yes, go get ‘em Jesus! But, there is movement in this story of Jesus’. The focus shifts from the scribes and the Pharisees – to Jesus’ first disciples – to the Christians of Matthew’s day – to us. Yes, us. As long as Jesus is talking about the scribes and the Pharisees we can sit unthreatened on the sidelines and cheer. As Jesus shifts his conversation to his disciples, though, we sense that he will, sooner or later, turn to us.

Jesus ends today’s reading with “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humbles themselves will be exalted.” Jesus is speaking of humility.

“Humility is not thinking lowly of oneself; it is not thinking of oneself. The humble person is free–free to be concerned about others, free to be at the disposal of others, free to see the worth of others”. (Source:And God Created Laughter)

Most of us would agree that George Washington was a great general and a great president. In 1783, he was at his headquarters in Newburgh, New York. His soldiers were restless, because Congress had not appropriated money to pay their salaries. It appeared that Congress might renege on its promise to pay pensions. The soldiers were threatening to take matters into their own hands.

Washington called a meeting to deal with the unrest. For the first time in his life, he found himself addressing sullen, hostile officers. He promised to do whatever he could to help them. He tried to explain that Congress, like all deliberative bodies, moves slowly. He appealed to their patience and their patriotism. His officers were unmoved by his pleas. They were angry and belligerent.

Then, remembering that he had received a letter from a Congressman promising speedy action on the soldiers’ grievances, Washington took the letter out of his pocket. He unfolded the letter and started to read, but suddenly appeared confused. After an awkward pause, he reached into his pocket for his eyeglasses. Apologizing for the interruption, he said:

I have already grown gray
in the service of my country.
I am now going blind.

His officers were stunned. Washington’s remarks reminded them of the sacrifices Washington had made in their service and in the service of their country. His remarks reminded them of the enormous personal risk that he had taken to support the Revolution. Suddenly, the room was hushed. Tears welled up in strong men’s eyes. They voted unanimously to follow Washington’s advice. The fledgling nation was once again safe, at least for the moment. It had become safe because of a servant and his sacrifice.

If you want to be great In God’s Kingdom,
Learn to be the servant of all.
Jesus observed the scribes and Pharisees, men ambitious to be great. He said:
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others….
They love to have the place of honor at banquets
and the best seats in the synagogues,
and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
and to have people call them rabbi.”

Jesus told us not be like those men, ambitious for personal recognition. He went on to say:

“The greatest among you will be your servant.”
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In other words:

If you want to be great In God’s Kingdom,
Learn to be the servant of all.

Janet Ruffing, in her book, Uncovering Stories of Faith, tells about a group of computer salesmen from Milwaukee who went to Chicago for a sales convention. They told their wives that they would be home in time for dinner, but their meeting ran overtime and they had to rush to the station to catch their train.

As they hurried through the terminal, one man accidentally kicked over a table and a basket of apples. Without stopping, the men all ran to the train and boarded it with a sigh of relief. All but one! One man felt sorry train and returned to the terminal.

He was glad he did. As it turned out, the boy was blind. The salesman gathered up the apples, and noticed that several were bruised. He handed the boy a bill and said, “Please take this ten dollars for the damage we did. I hope we didn’t spoil your day.” As he started to walk away, the surprised boy called after him, “Mister, are you Jesus?”

The antidote for hypocrisy is grace. Into midst of our exhaustion to get ahead, to be the greatest, to win, comes one who just really loves our face, “Come to me, he says, “I will give you rest.” Can you feel your soul relax into the freedom of that embrace?

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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