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In Matthew’s gospel we read this beautiful passage describing the egalitarian, human community Jesus was seeking to create:
“But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
Humility is a characteristic of Jesus’ vision of the human community and God’s just future that still resonates with me deeply. It’s also a trait still mostly ignored in many sectors of organized Christianity.
What does it mean to live a life devoid of any attempt to exalt oneself above others? This passage is quite possibly the most anti-authoritarian passage in the gospel stories, second only to an earlier passage in Matthew 20:25-26:
“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)
What does it look like for us as Jesus followers to create ways of organizing communities that display a way of human organizing where we don’t seek to dominate but do protect and care for one another? What Jesus was doing for his early Jewish followers was commissioning them to display what a community could look like if full of humble egalitarian relationships rather than hierarchical ones.
According to the Hebrew creation narrative, hierarchical relationships are a fruit of the relational schisms that took place in the primordial garden. They don’t reflect God’s original vision for the created order. In Genesis 1:26, although we are to steward the ecology of our world as our home, the authority mentioned there was not to be over others. The narrative that follows Genesis 1:26 hints at humans’ inability to exercise authority over one other without doing harm.
I think Jesus’ early followers tried to get their heads around this and experimented with the practice of humility, though they were still working within the limits of their own time, space, and cultural constructs.
We’ll look at those examples next.