Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
It is one thing to speak an order. It is another to come alongside the person carrying the burden of the command, and to companion them in the doing. Years ago, when I was working as a nursing assistant in a large hospital, among the patients I was assigned to was an elderly woman who was very anxious about being hospitalized and who – for those days and nights of her hospital stay – lost her sense of reality. She also suffered from various physical troubles which required much of my time to tend and care for. The work was messy, and I found myself needing to help this fragile and frightened woman with several changes of hospital gowns, and several changes of bed linens during the shift — all the while assuring her that I was there to help her feel comfortable in any way I could.
As the evening wore on, the nursing supervisor came by—who had assigned me to this section on the floor, including this patient. She checked in to see how I was doing, and how the patient was. I was in the middle of changing this dear lady’s hospital gown for the fifth time. The supervisor, on assessing the situation, walked up to the bedside, and began to help me – change the gown, and the bed linens. “I’m here for you,” she said. “Ms. ________, I’m the nursing supervisor this evening. Just want you to know that I’ll be helping Ms. Miller, your nursing assistant for the rest of the night. We ‘re going to work together to help you feel comfortable.” She smiled at me, and said quietly, “This kind of nursing work is hard. I’m here to help.”
What a difference her presence and help made! I am forever grateful for her willingness to do the work of a nursing aide. Such an example of servant leadership!
As we enter into the lectionary narrative this week, we find ourselves in the environs of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is addressing the crowds gathered there – along with his disciples. As we listen in, Jesus paints a verbal picture of the kind of practices and attitudes among the religious leaders of his day. His picture shows how the scribes and the Pharisees “sit on Moses’ seat” – they assume this great leader’s place and authority over the people of God – the nation of Israel. Thus, Jesus says, “Do whatever they teach you,” as they speak the commandments and teachings of the Mosaic Law. However, “do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” They command one thing, but do another. (Matthew 23:1-2ff)
Jesus unmasks the inner motives of these leaders: to be seen by others, to be in the best seats, to enjoy being labeled as “rabbi” – a name of high respect and wisdom.
Greatness, says Jesus, is seen in serving others and in humility. In our acts of serving others, in being humble, we are not called to be less than ourselves. Rather, we are being our true self, following the way of Jesus, moving with the Spirit of Jesus who indwells us.
Humility is knowing who we truly are and living in harmony with the Spirit of God – living in dependency on God in life and practice. This is the way of Jesus – to be a servant to us – the one who washes our feet. Like the nurse supervisor, Jesus comes alongside to help. But not just for part of the evening shift. Jesus is with us always. This is the gentle and enduring servanthood of God.
Spiritual maturity shows itself in this way: in kindness and gentleness, in patience and endurance, in the kind of love which is happy with the truth – truth which sees the reality which is before it. Hence Jesus exposure of the reality which lurked behind the teaching of the Mosaic Law. Such an exposure is allowing the truth to be named and shown – with the intent of setting persons free from this lie which holds them captive to self-serving behaviors.
Paul offers us a window into how he, Silvanus, and Timothy serve the new believers in Thessalonia: “we were gentle among you like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you . . . we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you . . . “ (1 Thessalonians 2:9). Such a contrast from the motives and behaviors of the religious leaders of whom Jesus speaks.
The Spirit of Jesus sensitizes us, brings light into the darker and self-serving corners of our being – and makes us aware of our own inconsistent actions. Not with the intent of condemning, but with the desire to set us free to be and to live in freedom from the power and motives which drive our selfish actions. Free to live and serve in harmony with the in-dwelling presence of Christ.
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost:
- 10/24 Monday: Matthew 23:1-12
- 10/25 Tuesday: Matthew 23:1-12
- 10/26 Wednesday: Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
- 10/27 Thursday: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
- 10/28 Friday: Joshua 3:7-17
- 10/29 Saturday: Matthew 23:1-12
- 10/30 Sunday: Matthew 23:1-12