Listen up!

Readings for November 5, 2017

Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10
Psalm 131
Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
Matthew 23:1-12

Priests, scribes and Pharisees all get their warning in this week’s readings. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus starts by dressing down the scribes and Pharisees. As a life-long, self-described rebel, I get a little charge out of almost any admonition of authority. However, scripture also points out that we are all “priests for the God and Father” of Jesus (REV 1:6). So when the prophet Malachi proclaims the Word of God, “O priests, this commandment is for you,” it seems the commandment of humility is not just for the person in the front of the church, but also for the dude in the pew.

Jesus warns the crowd, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,” but humbling myself seems counter-cultural in today’s me-first world. Humility plays no part in collecting social media followers, “likes” or retweets. Yet, Jesus’ example of leadership, where “the greatest among you must be your servant,” was just as controversial 2000 years ago as it may seem to be today. The Jews certainly were not immune to the social pressures and heroic leadership visions of their time. As a people ruled by an oppressive foreign power, they expected a Messiah; they awaited the coming of the Messiah; they prayed for the Messiah. Yet, the Messiah who appeared before them wasn’t at all what they expected, waited or prayed for. Even when choosing his Apostles, Jesus was not immediately accepted. When Philip described Jesus, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Until Jesus surprisingly acknowledged him, Nathaniel was skeptical of this Messiah coming from a nowhere crosstown like Nazareth (John 1:44-51).

I am sometimes prone to self-deprecation, particularly in my use of humor. However, it is important to distinguish that self-deprecation is not an act of humility. Humility is not rolling over in blind or harmful submission to false authority either. Rather, biblical humility recognizes a loving relationship with God. In God’s love, humility is an active form of honoring Him and serving another. In contrast to pop culture’s caricature of humility, I can be confident, bold and even a little headstrong and remain humble to serve those in need. Actually, in living God’s love, I must be all of that. Of course, there is no shortage of examples in scripture. Mary declares herself a “handmaid of the Lord” and humbly accepts the will of God (Luke 1:38). While Mary had no earthly authority or power – she was poor, young, pregnant and betrothed but not yet married – she was no shrinking violet, either. At the wedding in Cana, Mary looks to Jesus to help the hosts and he replies that his public ministry had not yet started. Her response was a motherly rebuff, quietly and confidently turning to the maître d’ and saying, “Do whatever it is he tells you” (John 2:1-12). John the Baptist commanded enough authority and had enough confidence to antagonize Herod, the tetrarch. Yet, when questioned by his own disciples about any potential rivalry with Jesus, John replied, “So this joy of mine has been made complete, he must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). And Jesus himself says he is “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29) yet it seems doubtful the scribes and Pharisees defined him in those terms.

How do I best pray for humility in following Jesus’ example of leadership? Malachi starts me on the right path – listen! Listening is a scripturally identified act of humility. God Himself tells me to listen to Jesus in the Gospels, when Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. Furthermore, there is distinction between hearing and listening cited often in scripture, “Let him who has ears to hear listen.” Hearing is not enough. Hearing can be passive, but like humility, listening is active. To listen, I must have “stilled and quieted my soul,” blocking out my own self-interests and selfish desires fueled by the frenetic pace of the world around me. When I actively listen, I am able to discern, understand and act in God’s love and follow the Psalmist’s appeal to put my “hope in the Lord, both now and forever.”

Whether at work, at home, or at church, I cannot be humble and not be willing to listen. To carry out the mission of my employer, I must listen to my manager. When I write my reflections and turn them over to my editor, I must listen to her suggestions for the best, most communicative way to convey my thoughts. To serve my wife and children, I must listen to understand what they need from me. To know God’s will, I must still my heart and allow enough quiet in my life to listen attentively and actively. Listening is a loving act of humility, showing both my love for God and my love for others. It is not a suggestion; it is a command. Listen!

2 thoughts on “Listen up!

  1. On Sat, Nov 4, 2017 at 5:56 AM Reflections From the Pew wrote:

    > Tim McGee posted: “Readings for November 5, 2017 Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10 > Psalm 131 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13 Matthew 23:1-12 > Priests, scribes and Pharisees all get > their warning in this week’s readings. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus starts by > dres” >


  2. I like the part about listening to stay humble. I have been reflecting on the Pharisees myself, always trying not to be sucked into being one. This week it was hard too, reading about how bishops are not getting along with the Pope. It almost feels like politics. Are the Bishops being Pharisees or just challenging in an appropriate manner? Are the Pope’s rebuffing like Jesus or something darker? It’s hard to tell. But easy to get sucked into social media back and forth with others. Perhaps, it’s best to just listen ocassionally.

    P.S. – A fellow Catholic school teacher has a funny poster of what a Jesus Faithbook social media profile page might look like but I couldn’t find a way to attach a picture of it.


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