“The Family of God: Humbling Ourselves as Servants”
November 5, 2017
The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Micah 3: 5 – 12 / Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2: 9-13 / Matthew 23: 1 - 12
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
As the Word was being brought down, the song that was being played says, “Thou art worthy to take the Book.” It is a very significant song. It was taken from the Book of Revelation chapter five when there was a cry in the whole earth. The book was opened, and there were seven seals. It contained the mysteries and answers to life. John was crying, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break the seals?” Then, an angel said, “Don’t cry, John, because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is worthy to take and break the seals and open the book for us.”
This is what we do every Sunday as we gather. Christ Himself opens the book so that whatever mysteries and problems we go through in life, the book of life is open for us to have hope, to have victory, and to have a greater perspective of this hope and victory.
The season of Ordinary time is coming to its conclusion and we come with a very significant and important lesson for us today. It is related to the very first command of God to mankind in Genesis 1. God said to man, “To be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to rule and subdue.” Many of us take these words for granted. God is giving man authority to be in charge of this whole earth, to be in-charge of every aspect of our lives. God gave us the ability to rule and to take dominion over all our problems, and this is not a fantasy, but a reality. It is the truth, and it is the Word of God. Man is to use this authority with the understanding that he maintains a living relationship with God who rules over all.
This is a very simple truth that we apply in almost every aspect of our lives. Spiritually, we are challenged to have authority over sin and every evil. We are challenged to have authority over every weak area of our lives. We do not have to give in to ungodliness and worldly passions. We do not need to be victims, but victors.
This authority is also brought out in the physical realm. In the family, men lead their wives and their families. Parents exercise authority over their children. In schools, teachers are over their students. In the work place, supervisors, managers and administrators rule over their co-workers. In civil government, people are vested with authority over their constituents. Authority is a a daily task that everyone is involved in. Even among siblings, there is someone in authority. We call them “Kuya” or “Ate”. All of these levels of authority have a basic ingredient of human life. We live by it, and it is something that God is reminding us today.
We must be reminded that being in authority is only a tool and a means that we could accomplish a greater task, which is service. Parents have authority over their children so that they can serve their children. Government officials have authority so that they can serve people. Whatever authority is given to the clergy during their ordination is to be used to serve because authority is a tool.
In Genesis 2:15, man was given authority and was placed in the garden to cultivate and keep it. To cultivate and to keep means to serve all of creation. Authority is never self-serving “me”. This is why God has to be the ruler over all of us. Unless our lives are submitted to God, then the authority will always be abused or misused. Parents have to be submitted to God so that their authority over their children will be seen. Husbands are to be under Christ, so that they will have wives that will submit to them. Government officials must be godly and god-fearing so that they would have authority over people. Without God to guide us, authority becomes a means for abuse and it is prone to become a tool for self-advancement. When this happens, pride sets in.
Pride is using authority, and it is taking dominion apart from God. It is very subtle and many, even the church leaders, fall prey to it. Among some churches, it is classified as the most deadly of all capital sins. In Micah 3:5-12, “This is what the Lord says:“As for the prophets who lead my people astray, they proclaim ‘peace’ if they have something to eat, but prepare to wage war against anyone who refuses to feed them.” This is abuse. Prophets were made to be like this.
In verse 9, “Hear this, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right;10 who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money.” This is the abuse of authority that God gave. What happened in the first place is that these men,who were supposed to be protectors of the people, have departed from God and His ways.
From the beginning, each of us was created to be great. We were all made for greatness. This means that there is an innate greatness in us, but pride will seek that greatness apart from God. The tricky thing about pride is that it often starts in promoting the greatness of God, and then people begin to be misled. A person thinks he is looked upon by other people, so pride sets in because all that the people see is the glory in that person.
We sing, “I love you with the love of the Lord. I can see in you the glory of my King.” When we forget the glory of God, this is when pride starts to set in. There was this side story of the donkey that Jesus sat on Palm Sunday. At the stable on Sunday night, the donkey was with the other animals in the barn. The donkey was walking so proudly, and the horse asked the donkey, “Why are you so proud?” The donkey answered, “You should have seen me this morning. The people lay their clothes on the road for me to pass through it, and they were waving their palm branches to greet me. The people were extoling me, calling me a king.” The donkey did not know that the people were greeting the Person who was riding it.
Many times, this happens to us. We become promoted. We become great and excellent in our craft that we fail to realize that it is God who gives power to make wealth. This greatness is within us. Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.”
How can we avoid pride? There are two things to do this. In Matthew 23:2 – 3, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses, therefore all that they tell you do and observe.” The religious leaders were placed in the seat of Moses for a reason, but Jesus told them, “Whatever they tell you, do and observe.” Children, obey your parents. Citizens, obey the laws of the land. The first principle to counteract pride is obedience unfailingly, not selectively. The kingdom of God is founded on obedience. In heaven, there is no disobedient spirit. When our obedience is complete here on earth, then God can cause disobedience to be punished because there is already a standard set by the people of God who walk in obedience.
Obedience is a very powerful tool, but we obey unfailingly. When we enter any establishment, there are rules to follow to establish order. When we are required to follow a certain rule, many of us get easily touched by our pride. It is pride rising in its ugly head in us. Our tendency is to have selective obedience. If the rules are not favorable to us, when it is inconvenient for us, we resist. When the leaders are not what they are supposed to be, we rebel. When our parents are not doing what they are telling us to do, we won’t obey them. But Jesus Himself, a victim of the Pharisees’ abuse, said, “Do what they tell you.” This is the gospel. He did not say, “Only follow the good Pharisees.” Obedience is a force in the kingdom of God. When there is obedience in society, in the family and when children begin to be submitted to their parents – a quick and joyful response, it flows and it establishes authority.
The second principle to counteract pride is humility. The Pharisees started out with good intentions 150 years before Christ came. They were men zealous to preserve the law of God in Israel, during a time when Greek rulers wanted to abolish them. The sect of the Pharisees stood up for the Law and the traditions of the Rabbis and sought to preserve the faith of Israel and live it with passion. Yet obviously something went terribly wrong with God’s champions because just a few generations later, when the Son of God appeared in their midst, the Pharisees rejected Him.
How did it happen? They succumbed to this deadly sin called pride. Pride, when it sets into our lives, we tend to allow it to permeate. We don’t realize that it is there. As God’s people, humility is a very important virtue. This humility can be seen in service – when we serve others. Not only are we to be obedient, but also servants.
1 Thessalonians 2: 9-13 is a very vivid contrast to the first reading where Micah was talking about the abuse of leaders. “Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God.” Paul is telling us that the Word of God does not come only in words, but also through our lives We have a beautiful Lectionary that talks about the Word, but when we leave the doors of the Church, it must now be written in human hearts and carried out wherever we go – in our service to others.
Paul ended 1Thessalonians, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” When the Deacon or the Reader proclaims the Word of God, we don’t receive the word of men, but the Word of God. When we are present during the liturgy, we receive God’s Word, and that Word is given so that we can be equipped to be servants, so that we can walk in humility. All of the things that we do during liturgy – the bowing, the kneeling, standing, sitting, – are tasks so that we can train ourselves not to do our own thing, but to do it in unison because we are servants to the King.
Obedience and service are very, very necessary so that we can walk in authority and fulfil the original intention of God to man. When we see this, we can walk in the heights of the heavens, and we can see things bow down in our lives. Prayers will be answered and there will be order in our families, in our offices and wherever we go. There will be the turmoils, but in our hearts, there is peace and order because we walk in obedience and in humility.
Let us be servants; not people who flaunt their positions, because the position is there only for us to serve. All of us were called to serve. Amen.