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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, November 2, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Matthew 23:1–12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (NRSV)

Several scholarly studies over recent decades have drawn increased attention to the many ways in which names, titles, and credentials stir in each of us implicit biases about the qualifications and intentions of other people. These biases influence whom we may choose to hire for a job or befriend in social circles. That often runs counter to our intentions, especially as people of faith, to associate with people based on the content of their character.

The gap between our ideals and our practices is one that Jesus caught onto in his ministry. He uncovered hypocrisy in public leaders in the gap between their words and deeds. What does it mean to practice what we preach, especially when it relates to opening the doors of opportunity for others or committing to inclusion?

With the power we have in workplaces, neighborhoods, or social life, we can easily find ourselves excluding and burdening others in ways we know cognitively to be harmful. To these concerns, Jesus counsels us with an important word: servanthood.

Like a neighborhood or a peoplehood, servanthood represents a collective identity. It is composed of those who seek to act with humility and care toward others. Servanthood avoids making assumptions about those we do not know, but seeks to increase our knowledge of other persons’ needs and stories. Rather than seeking greatness through credentials and titles, servanthood channels our ambitions toward treating one another with tenderness and judiciousness.

Where is God calling you to join the community of servanthood this day?

Holy One, you counsel humility when I seek power. You counsel care for others when I am narrowly focused on myself. Help me to join the community of servanthood this day, seeking to uplift rather than reject my neighbor. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Associate Pastor-Elect for Evangelism and Community Engagement

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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