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(Part 12)


March 14, 2017

Today’s readings:
Isaiah 1:10-20
Psalm 50:8-23
Matthew 23:1-12

To be holy is to be set apart. It is to be different from the world and its ways. This is the call to Christians, but many of them do not understand this call. Even many who are religious, and many who serve in the Church. This was the case with religiously-observant servant leaders during Jesus’ time--the scribes and the Pharisees. They have many counterparts among leaders in the Church today.

What is authentic and holy servant leadership, that sets them apart from worldly leadership?

First, it is not about power or position. “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.” (Mt 23:2). To be a leader does involve power (or authority) and position, but a holy servant leader is to be a servant who happens to be assigned to lead, or to be a leader who knows he is first and foremost a servant.

Second, it is not about prominence or acclaim. “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.” (Mt 23:5). Holy servant leaders serve quietly and simply, without pomp or fanfare, without needing to be recognized or credited.

Third, it is not about honor and glory. “They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation, ‘Rabbi.’” (Mt 23:6-7). Though good leaders are honored by those they serve well, holy servant leaders care not and do not look for such honor. What they desire is that to God be all the honor and glory. “Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.” (Mt 23:10).

Fourth, it is not just about religious observance or compliance, but about living a holy life. The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous in observance of the law, but their hearts and minds were not really conformed to God. So too are many Church leaders who live sinful lives and who do not strive for holiness. “But to the wicked God says: ‘Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your mouth? You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!’” (Ps 50:16-17).

Such leaders even go to Church, and participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. “What do I care for the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord.” (Is 1:11a). Such leaders think of fulfilling their obligations but just in compliance, but with their hearts far from God. “Trample my courts no more! To bring offerings is useless; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath, calling assemblies--festive convocations with wickedness--these I cannot bear.” (Is 1:13).

Now God does not reject overt religious observance. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you” (Ps 50:8a). Rather, God is concerned with the condition of our lives. God looks to authentic praise and worship, manifested by obedience to His commands and living His covenant. “Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.” (Ps 50:14). God looks to holiness and reject those who remain in serious sin. “When you spread out your hands, I will close my eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood!” (Is 1:15).

Fifth, it is not just about teaching others but about observing one’s own teaching. It is walking the talk. “For they preach but they do not practice.” (Mt 23:3b). Do you recognize such teachers, who do not follow community teaching, such as avoiding gossip, not maligning or slandering others, causing dissension, forming factions?

What then should holy servant leaders do?

First, avoid sin. “Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil” (Is 1:16). Among serious sins are:

  • Stealing. “If you see a thief, you run with him” (Ps 50:18a).
  • Sexual licentiousness. “With adulterers you throw in your lot” (Ps 50:18b). It is not just adultery, but sex outside sacramental marriage, for all irregular unions, including gay sex.
  • Misuse of the tongue, engaging in gossip, deception, maligning and slander. “You give your mouth free rein for evil; you yoke your tongue to deceit. You sit and speak against your brother, slandering your mother’s son.” (Ps 50:19-20).

When we do such things, we are no longer set apart for God. We are no longer walking His path. Then God, who created us in His image and likeness, who desires for us to be truly His children, who calls as to holiness just like Him, will say: “When you do these things should I be silent? Do you think that I am like you?” (Ps 50:21a). God wants us to be like Him, but it is we who decide that we are not like God.

Second, we not only avoid sin, but we must do good. Not just no negatives but pile on the positives. “Learn to do good” (Is 1:17a). What is it to do good? It is to be just. “Make justice your aim” (Is 1:17b). What is justice? It is doing what is right and giving to the other person what is his due. To God is due worship. To others is due respect as creatures of God made in His image and likeness. To the poor is due an equitable share of the world’s goods. The poor are especially loved by God. Holy servant leaders are mindful of God’s heart for the poor. They are called on to “redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” (Is 1:17c).

Third, holy servant leaders remain humble, especially as they are honored and acclaimed. God does want His instruments, His servant leaders, to be recognized, accepted and honored, given the good work that they do. But God teaches them that the first is last and the greatest is the least and the leader is the servant. “The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Mt 23:11). The opposite of humility, which is pride, is the greatest threat and causes the downfall of many servant leaders. So remain humble, and look only to God for honor. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:12).

Servant leaders, are you striving for holiness? Do you hate sin and repent when you do fall? Are you humble before your God, Savior and Master? “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord” (Is 1:18a). Be holy, and you will be fruitful in your service, as the Lord intends. “If you are willing and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land” (Is 1:19).

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