31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
“For they preach but they do not practice.” The scribes and Pharisees may be the ones Jesus was speaking about in today’s Gospel, but we must be careful not to dismiss his words when it comes to our own actions. Jesus offered a difficult challenge to those honor-seekers that we must also heed when he said, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” This is not the way the world usually works. Generally speaking, the idea of being a servant is considered inferior to being someone who has risen to high levels of leadership or status. But Jesus wants people in positions of authority to selflessly serve those over whom they have influence. And he insists that the leaders who establish laws, rules, and guidelines do not excuse themselves from following their own directives! “Practice what you preach,” as the saying goes.
Whether or not we have extensive public influence, almost all of us at certain points are in a position to exercise leadership—with our children and families, with classmates, coworkers, neighbors, friends, and sometimes strangers. When these moments arise, we are called to step into this role without being hypocrites. It’s important to be sure we don’t issue unrealistic demands on others that we ourselves would find it burdensome or even impossible to fulfill. This requires the virtue of humility. Instead of reveling in the authority we may have at any given moment, instead of creating “heavy burdens hard to carry and lay[ing] them on people’s shoulders,” we need to be ready and willing to walk a mile in their shoes, and lead accordingly. And Jesus tells us clearly that this servant leadership will be rewarded, for “whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”