Friday Focus: God, Give Me a Servant's Heart
Sure they were scriptural whiz-kids. But where was the love? They were star performers of ritual. But their praise was hollow. They were arbiters of right and wrong. But their real job was extortion and self-aggrandizement. They had the brains, but not the heart. They used their offices to coerce, not to serve.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph and finds the seat of Moses has become the epicenter of sacrilege. The gentle Jesus, who loved the lowly and sought out sinners, despises corruption with a wrath God reserves for grotesque abuse of priestly privilege. Calling them: fools…hypocrites…blind guides…vipers…whited sepulchers, Jesus rips into the filth that fouls God’s house.
But Jesus did not come to carp and to scold. He came to save. So he clearly points out the path to healing repentance, instructing all who have the will to hear that: …he that is the greatest among you shall be your servant…whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Matthew’s gospel is known as a gospel of instruction. And repetition is the essence of instruction. From the Sermon on the Mount all the way to Calvary, Jesus repeats the lesson of this Sunday’s gospel, sometimes in beatitudes, sometimes in parables and finally in blunt straight talk: Whoever wants to be first, must first become a servant…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
Jesus defines greatness as servanthood. Reflecting on this essential Christian contradiction, Henri Nouwen writes: “Our God is a servant God…we are liberated by someone who became powerless…we are strengthened by someone who became weak…we find a leader in someone who became a servant.”
It’s that simple. To follow Jesus, to become a Christian, is to become a servant. But unlike the proud priests and scribes in this gospel, becoming a true servant means purging ourselves of vanity, resentments, jealousies…all the self-centered junk that crowds out the peace and joy of Christ’s love. God will send no one away empty except those who remain so full of themselves that they leave no room for grace.