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 market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.
What drives our actions? Jesus points to the scribes and Pharisees saying (paraphrased) “do what they teach and not what they do.” Jesus says that the teachings may be in the right place, but not their hearts. What compels them to share wisdom? In this text, we are introduced to people who do work for their own desires including taking places of honor and prestige in the community.
There are a number of actions we take to better ourselves. Giving our time, talent, and treasure to important causes feels good. There are also times we take action because it makes us look good or makes us feel better about ourselves.
I entered college and graduate school to strengthen some of my skills and increase my knowledge so that I could make a bigger contribution to the world—but that wasn’t the whole reason. I discovered that deep inside I was hoping that I would somehow attain deeper respect from others and feel better about my place in the world. I was also feeling a bit insecure about being a lesbian woman entering the ministry. My feelings became more apparent when I heard the story of a local college professor who was called an epithet based on his sexual orientation when all he wanted to do was share a drink with friends. I was saddened to hear of the event and realized that even if I had the letters “Rev.” or “Dr.” in front of my name, I would not be shielded from harm. I was going to school, in part, because I thought my education could protect me. The truth is that if I desire to do what is right and honor God, I am choosing a challenging path. The lives of Jesus and the prophets show us all too clearly how those who carry the message of love and peace are not always readily received.
We cannot do this work alone. Because of this, we cannot expect to take all the credit, either. This work of honoring God with our lives requires nothing short of the power of God acting in and through us.
God gives us a glimpse of the peaceable realm when those who wish to store up all the glory for themselves will be humbled and those who are humbled will be celebrated. It is when we are most humble that we are able to truly experience peace and witness the power of God.
Oh God, it is said that I must decrease in order for you to increase within me. I pray that desires for my own will may decrease that I may discover how the unique gifts you have freely given me can be fine tuned to live out your will to bring about the peaceable realm. Amen.
Angela Henderson, M.Div. currently serves as the Unitarian Universalist campus minister at UC Davis. She graduated with her Master of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology in 2010 and is a candidate for ministry.