But you shouldn’t be called Rabbi, because you have one teacher, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. Don’t be called teacher, because Christ is your one teacher. 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.
There is a great temptation in thinking about humility – in seeing humility as a means to an end. In fact, this passage kind of leads us in that direction.
When Jesus says, “all who make themselves low will be lifted up,” isn’t he suggesting that if we suffer and struggle now, there will be a reward later? But wait: if all we’re doing is acting humble in the pursuit of a reward, is that real humility? Then again, if there is no reward, why bother?
To live the spiritual life is to get comfortable with this kind of conundrum. What is Jesus really getting at?
A little context: Jesus was speaking here to the disciples, and contrasting them with religious leaders in Jerusalem. The bottom line message was: “I don’t want you to be like them.” On some level, they couldn’t be – because following Jesus, especially in the early days, meant rejection by nearly everyone. There would be no power or prestige like the scribes and Pharisees enjoyed – only persecution. The disciples’ humility then was a kind of forced humility. They needed this reminder of a reward to keep them going when things got difficult. They needed to know that regardless of what they suffered in this life, what they were doing had value.
They needed to know that their actions made sense in the light of eternity. This is sometimes the only way to assess the value of our service, of putting others before self, of setting aside our privilege – our actions have to be considered in the light of eternity. We don’t do these things to benefit ourselves in the here and now – though we expect they will benefit others. We do these things because in the light of eternity, it’s the only way to live.
For Pondering & Prayer
Are there ways in which you’ve become frustrated by “trying to do the right thing?” Does it help to consider your actions in the light of eternity? Maybe you can try giving this over to God in prayer today.
Does it also help to consider your actions in terms of the good they are pouring into other people’s lives? (Remember that “good” can be defined in many ways, including the example you set for someone else…)