Give Yourself Away

Photo credit: Patricia Soransso

Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to his followers and the crowds:

“The traditionalists and the legalists have inherited Moses’ formal authority. So do as they say. But don’t do as they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They rope people into carrying impossible burdens without lifting a finger to help. Everything they do is self-promotion. They wear their religion on their sleeves, and show off their fancy clothes. They go to charity dinners, not for the charity, but to get noticed. They cater to the Wall Street crowd and want everyone to call them by their titles.

But don’t use titles, even if you have them; you are all equals under one cause. Don’t call anyone Leader: your leader is God. And don’t claim to know it all – that’s God’s place alone. The greatest among you are those who serve. The high-fliers will fall. But give yourself away, and you’ll soar.

Formal authority only gets you so far. If you use it as a yardstick to measure your self-worth, it always comes up short. And, if you depend on it to get people’s compliance, it earns you only disdain. Witness the TSA. Lots of formal authority. Hardly any real credibility. Universally abhorred by anyone who has to deal with them.

Being born with a silver spoon or making it big-time can buy you the life of Riley. But (and this has been scientifically proven now) money really can’t make you happy. Witness the messy divorces, addictions and suicides of the rich and famous on Entertainment Tonight.

It goes without saying that using “I’m a Christian,” as an appeal to competence, reliability, or character is completely meaningless. And we all know that beauty is only skin deep. Seth Godin wrote recently about being invited to a charity gala dinner. But even though it feels like a welcome invitation, he reports, it’s a venue fraught with peril.

But if all these common measures of people are false indicators, the only remaining assessment of the value of human life is that “all are equals under one cause.” And the only real indicator of greatness is service. Real service. As in, What have you done for someone else lately? Without expecting someone to do something for you. Again, the divine paradox: the only way to benefit from a gift is to give it without any expectation of receiving any benefit.

And the only reason Jesus’ saying it is credible is because he did it.