Matthew 23:1-12
Unity: greatness  
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA

Reprinted with permission of The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Then 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 life 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 Messiah.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings.  You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

The Scripture passages for today are rich and address a range of ways in which we are invited to respond to God's blessings in our lives.  I shall focus on two of them: unity and greatness.

One very frustrating element of our modern day is the divisive spirit that reigns in so many important dimensions of our world.  Coupled with that division is a growing lack of civility in the dialogue between various factions.  One of the more obvious and painful locations of this divisive spirit is the world of politics.  The inability of our political entities to come together, engage in healthy dialogue, address important issues with a measure of civility, master the art of compromise and make needed decisions is of great concern to most Americans.  The name calling, cheap tactics, refusal to dialogue and ineffectiveness is distressing on many levels.

This prevailing wind of division is leaking into many other areas of life - the field of education, conflicts among nations even the life of the church.

Jesus, prophetically aware of the future needs of his disciples, prayed with great intensity and devotion for unity just before his life would be taken from him.  As he prayed with the apostles at the Last Supper, Jesus pleaded: "I pray; not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (Jn 17: 20-22).

In our Old Testament passage for today, the prophet Malachi notes that sin causes division in our world.  He chastens the people of God for divisions that remain and recalls one of the great reasons for our sought-after unity - our connectedness in God.  Have we not all the one father?  Has not the one God created us?  Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?"

All of humanity shares the same God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  He alone created us to share in his life and love.  We are all brothers and sisters to one another.  In a true sense, we make up one human family.  In spite of our differences, political, national, racial, economic or otherwise, we are called to respect one another and care for one another.  We are all God's children.

If we find the prevalent divisions hard to endure, imagine how hard it must be for our heavenly Father?  What am I doing to become an agent of unity in our broken and divided world?  What am I doing to bring healing and hope to the family of God?

Secondly, I would like to turn to our Gospel passage and Jesus' teaching about greatness.  Most of us want to be great on some level or, at least, connected with those who are great.  Our culture proclaims that greatness is the fruit of wealth, power, intellect and influence.  Yet, we know that these gifts are so easily misused to our harm and the harm of others.  When they become the focus of our lives, they become distractions on our journey through life and cause great harm to those around us.

Jesus, on the other hand, has a different vision for human flourishing and greatness.  Today, he tells us, "The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."  Once again, Jesus' plan for our lives turns our world upside down.  The greatest human beings, in Jesus' eyes, are the ones who are dedicated to humbly serving those around them.  They use their gifts of wealth, power, intellect, and influence to humbly care for others and to build up God's kingdom of love and justice.  St. Damien of Molokai, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa of Kolkata are glorious examples of gifted persons using their talents to humbly serve their neighbor in need.  They manifest the beauty of the Gospel way of life, which proclaims that it is in giving that we receive, in loving that we are loved, and in dying to ourselves that we come to the fullness of life.

Let us pray: Jesus, draw  lose to us in  new way this day, especially in the Eucharist, convinces us of your tender, merciful love, and transform our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may become agents of unity in a broken world through the humble service of our family members and our neighbors in need.