Greatness = genuine service, not fancy titles

Posted Nov 16, 2022

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Daily Scripture

WEDNESDAY 11.16.22 Matthew 23:2-12

2 “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. 4 For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes. 6 They love to sit in places of honor at banquets and in the synagogues. 7 They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’

8 “But you shouldn’t be called Rabbi, because you have one teacher, and all of you are brothers and sisters. 9 Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. 10 Don’t be called teacher, because Christ is your one teacher. 11 But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who lift themselves up will be brought low. But all who make themselves low will be lifted up.

Reflection Questions

In Jesus' day (and still today), many leaders (even religious ones) wanted exalted, lofty titles. Scholar William Barclay wrote, “The Pharisees liked to be addressed as Rabbi and to be treated with the greatest respect. They even claimed…greater respect than that given to parents, for, they said, a man’s parents give him ordinary, physical life, but a man’s teacher gives him eternal life.” * Jesus said his Kingdom was not about high-status in position or title. Greatness lay in serving others selflessly.

  • Pharisees were political and social leaders as well as spiritual. Scholar N. T. Wright said, “Today’s equivalents… might be the leaders, elected or unelected… who rejoice in ‘celebrity’ status, make speeches about public values while running lucrative but shady businesses… use their position to gain influence for their families and friends, and allow their private interests secretly to determine public policy…. What matters is the huge and humbling principle of verses 11 and 12.” ** How easy or hard is it for you to fully accept Jesus' clarity about greatness as service?
  • Does verse 9 mean it’s wrong to send a Father’s Day card, or otherwise honor your earthly father? No—Jesus often used a teaching style called “prophetic hyperbole,” overstating to make a point. Here he likely referred to men demanding the title of Elijah the great prophet (cf. 2 Kings 2:12) and other “fathers” of the faith. When, if ever, have you wished to make yourself feel more important by demanding your “rights” of role, status, or title?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, keep purifying my motivations as I serve. May my meaning and sense of worth come more from you each day—until my service is about you, not me. Amen.


* William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew—Volume 2 Chapters 11–28 (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 287.
** Wright, N. T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 2 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 98-99). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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Jennifer Creagar

Jennifer Creagar

Jennifer Creagar is the Community Assistance Coordination Director in Resurrection's Congregational Care Ministry. She is married and loves spending time with her family, and she enjoys writing and photography.

My maternal grandfather was Jewish. It must have been interesting for him, because for a great deal of his life, he was the only Jew in the community, or one of only a few. He spent most of his life in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and only lived in towns with a Jewish congregation for a few very short periods. Even without the support and influence of a synagogue, he maintained a lot of the culture and faith in which he was raised and handed some of that down to his grandchildren. One of the things Papa Sam taught us was the concept of being a “mensch.”

Like most Yiddish words, mensch came from a German word that means, simply, “human being.” A mensch is a person of honor and integrity, but there is more. A mensch cares for others, doesn’t put him or herself first but helps other people. A mensch doesn’t look for admiration or lofty position. A mensch acts in ways that support the community and helps those who need help. A mensch is kind and doesn’t use words to harm or hurt, only to build up and support another person. To a mensch, personal success can never come at the sacrifice of someone else’s quality of life. A mensch respects everyone, encourages everyone, and acts to enrich the lives of others. A mensch realizes that we human beings were created in God’s likeness and are responsible for caring for all of God’s creation.

Susan Moylan-Coombs, broadcaster, educator and First Peoples Social Justice Advocate says, “It is everyone’s responsibility to act like a mensch. Then, there would be a lot more good things happening in the world. We all have the capacity to do good in the world and it comes from within.”

Papa Sam lived the definition of being a mensch in his family and in his community. He spoiled his grandchildren rotten, but we all knew that the only thing that would get you on his bad side was to hurt someone or speak negatively about someone. He made it clear that he expected his family to care for others, go the extra mile, and be a positive influence.

In today’s Scripture, Jesus says, “But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant. All who lift themselves up will be brought low. But all who make themselves low will be lifted up.” (Matthew 23:2-12) If he’d spoken Yiddish (which hadn’t been invented yet), he might have ended with the simple instruction to “be a mensch.” To follow Jesus is to be a mensch.

Lord God, help me to be a mensch. Help me care for others more than myself, to encourage and bring hope to everyone in my life. When I long to be the star of the show, remind me that the greatest are those who act as a servant.
Help me to hold the wisdom of living in connection and service to others, as you form me into the human being I am meant to be. Amen.

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