April 16, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 12:38-40.
In the course of his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
Entitlement. Calling attention to one’s status for self-advancement. Serving as toadies of the rich for self-gain. This is a false religion that the scribes practiced. It was far from God’s precepts. The scribes were hypocrites in their religiosity.
I can’t help but think of our politicians and religious leaders today. That’s why Pope Francis is such a breath of fresh air. He has shunned the trappings and the luxe vestments of the papacy, shed the protection of his security detail, cast aside tradition to wash the feet of women.
I suppose that’s why the saints are given to us. Men and women like Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa who lived humble yet driven lives. People who gave all of themselves and divested themselves of all honors, all vestiges of wealth, all entitlements of very kind. Nothing could stop them in giving themselves, putting their health and safety in jeopardy, to serve the poor, the ill, the dying. Those are the leaders, the models, that Jesus calls us to. Those who don’t put God and his littlest ones first will be condemned.
Jesus was very clear. The first shall be last he often warned. I had best remember that when I have the opportunity to put myself before others.
Last year we bought a patron tickets to the Symphony in the Flint Hills. We had never been and becoming a patron was the only way to get tickets. I could justify that it was largely a contribution to help support this moving musical ode to the prairie. However, it entitled us to preferred transportation from the staging area to our car in a dark and distant pasture. We didn’t have to wait long for the next wagon. But those in an adjoining line did. As we were about to climb aboard, a woman in the other line finally lost her patience and loudly protested that she had been waiting a good deal longer than us.
There are many ways that I put myself before others, parading to a place of privilege or unearned accepting favors. I talk about the evil of income disparity in our country or squawk about the inequity of our tax structure in Kansas. However, it’s just talk and as long as it’s just talk, it’s hypocritical. Jesus is telling me that I have to do more than just talk; it has to be more than show. I have to live what I profess or I will be condemned on the day of my judgment. That’s what it means to be whole, to the consistent inside and out, to live in humility and service without regard to honor or earthly reward or notice. That goes against what the world promotes, but Jesus was all about turning the world upside down.