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Matthew 23:1-12

The first part of our gospel reading of today could well be taken as Christ's attack on clericalism, an attitude that is not foreign to us today.  This presumption of status, power, wisdom, and authority among us priests and religious has done a great deal to harm the credibility of our message. Christ goes on, in the second part of the reading, to describe the road that we should prefer as his disciples, even if (especially if?) some of us are at the same time priests and shepherds.  Notice that Jesus does not say that we should not be teachers or fathers (or mothers), only that we should not glory in the name or the position.  We are to serve in those roles, and to serve with love and joy, but not to seek our profit or "exaltation" from them.

Jesus speaks here of humility, of being humbled, but there are other ideas closely linked to humility which are worth noting in the linkage itself.  The first is what might be called integrity or harmony or maybe even transparency:  this is the state in which everything that we are and do, that we desire or attempt, is consistent with every other aspect of our life.  Humility leads to this by reducing the outrageous, excessive, or ab-normal elements of our life, makes us more totally centered.

The second word or idea is purity, which is very close to the first, and which is itself very close to the third word, holiness.  I have never been able to really understand what the word "holy" means, especially in the New Testament, but I am coming to believe that it implies that absolute purity or simplicity which is an outer aspect of the heart of God, his consuming and truly selfless love for us.

I think, then, that Christ is here calling us to live with that same holiness, not like God's but actually with the very holiness that God gives us, the holiness which is his very self, and that the humility Christ mentions is only the first step and necessary prelude to a complete imitation of God and submersion in him --- so different from the divisive and self-serving attitude Jesus first attacks in this reading.

By Chas Kestermeier

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