In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has harsh words for the scribes and the Pharisees: "…do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." Jesus criticizes them for their outward show of piety, and their love of public recognition without any real regard for the people they led. For all those who have leadership positions in the church, these words from Jesus are a warning to avoid similar kinds of behavior.
At the end of our Gospel passage, Jesus summarizes His warning in this way: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." We must be very careful here, because the temptation may remain to desire to be exalted. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous sermon on wanting to be a "drum major" in life, always wanting to be the one out in front of everyone else. And so we can think to ourselves, "Okay, in order to make sure I’m exalted, I must humble myself." This kind of thinking does not lead us to where we are called to go.
True humility comes from knowing that all we have and all we are comes from the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Whatever success we have had in our lives comes from using the skills and the gifts and the experiences that God has given us. The more we realize that fact, the less concerned we become about receiving the proper recognition we may think we deserve, and the more concerned we become about giving proper recognition to God’s working in our lives. We become less interested in being "exalted" at all. To be free from worry about our own "exaltation" is a great gift! May God lead us to true humility and service of the Gospel.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Fairfield, Alabama.