Fr. Glenn: Pride Of Service

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

I have a headache.

No, it’s not a particular difficult person or problem. Actually, I’m quite lucky; I might get a headache twice a year, and even then they’re not bad, and don’t last long. I always felt sorry for the chronic migraine folks. 

But … I wonder if this one is not sourced in the constant barrage of politics and vitriol in the news and in the (anti-) social media. “This woman is the devil!” … or “That guy is evil incarnate!” Okie dokey. Ah, well … we can always turn off the TV, the computer, the tablet and the cellphone. (“NOOOO! Not the phone!!”) So much of Facebook and Twitter and the like seems to be about who can be the snarkiest, or get in the best zinger. 

I was thinking about this during our Catholic Mass Saturday evening because the readings in the Mass touched upon the sin of pride—the false elevation of self above others.

We read the Gospel passage (Mark 6:1-6) in which Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth, and pride impels the Nazarenes to take offense at Him, even though Jesus had worked wonders and taught the word of God in ways never heard before. The people exclaim: “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” But … enter pride and envy—stage left.

As in any community, there were doubtless societal classes in Nazareth. One can surmise that the village had the more important, wealthy and powerful on top, and then probably a merchant middle class of sorts, and finally the lowly commoners—poor uneducated manual laborers. Jesus would have been of these last and least ones—the poor, sweaty, calloused-handed carpenter—a maker of plows and carts. So you can imagine how His “betters” might think: “How DARE He be better, wiser, more powerful!” … despite the evidence of the works He did and the teaching that He gave.

But before we condemn our snippy Nazarenes, we might have a bit of introspection. Perhaps you’ve felt a bit of envy at how someone you knew in high school or college far excelled YOU. Or, on the flip side, how you may have been disdained by an old school companion whom YOU far excelled. As Jesus’ ministry and popularity grew, the Nazarenes seem to have gotten a sort of:  “Well, now … Mr. Wonderful returns to bless us with his presence!” kind of attitude … and thus the Gospel author’s comment that “they took offense at him.”

It’s interesting that Jesus seems to be a surprise to them all, indicating that He likely never publicly manifested His great power and wisdom during His early life in Nazareth. Most Christians believe that Jesus, as both man and God, could not NOT be God … and while He “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), He was never unable to call upon His divine power should He have so desired, as He says: “I lay [my life] down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again…” (John 10:18) And so we discern yet again the humility of God—years of humble sweaty toil in a carpenter’s shop … by the Creator of Heaven and earth.

We also note Jesus’ compassion. Though the natives of the town lacked faith to prompt Him to do mighty and miraculous deeds, He nonetheless pities the sick and heals them. But, even when confronted by these healings, the Nazarenes refuse to set aside their pride and accept Him as one sent by God, and thus Jesus “…was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Whether you be Christian or not, this story highlights a prevailing human characteristic: Pride, as it was in our Gospel story above, is often our (weak) reaction against our own insecurities. And thus we are loathe to relinquish pride even though it often leads to cultivating a false sense of self-worth … a needless and false elevation of self above the other.

But we Christians—in imitation of Our Lord—are called to lay aside pride of place to become the servants of all. Even though such service might sometime call us to leadership or other high position, our attitude must always be “to serve”—to serve God first and foremost in worship and obedience to His moral law and instruction, and secondly to serve humanity in the persons of those around us and in others in true need. In this we can recall Jesus’ parable of the talents—that we are given what we have not for ourselves, but for the invested service of others. As Jesus assures us: “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing.” (Luke 12:42-43) And so, we ought not be more prideful the higher we ascend on the ladder of wealth, status or position, but rather recognize that these commit us to an even greater obligation of service to God and to the world.

As Jesus came to serve and not to be served, we Christians—as His disciples—are to go forth with like attitude, for He teaches us: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) … and we remember His adamant admonition: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

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