When we are confronted with the daily challenges surrounding the reality of HIV and AIDS, find ourselves on the receiving side of stigma, discrimination and at times even yielding to negative self-condemnation, despair, hating others who do not know or understand or keep hard judgments, etc. this message from Jesus can be liberating in how it offers discernment and perspective on who, we as Christians, are called to follow, to trust for guidance and to imitate as living example/role model/leadership of how to be humble, loving, and in service of making a positive difference in our lived realities, our faith communities, our countries, regions and the world.
In our text, Jesus is teaching people that the source of all life and truth is God; and that they ought not to seek or receive a title (rabbi) which properly belongs to God. Jesus invites his listeners to discern for themselves how deserving the example set by their spiritual teachers/leaders is, how trustworthy, how helpful, before they so easily give them authority and power.
To live how God wants us to live, as revealed in Matthew 23 verses 11 and 12 (11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted) is a big challenge and we are confronted with our shortcomings and our mistakes daily, especially those who are leaders/spiritual teachers.
And as Jesus zooms in on the Pharisees, we are confronted with the need to discern within our own hearts whose example we are following. Are we followers and disciples that live by the example of Christ, who forms embodied human connections, who engages with all people – no matter the diversity in status, class, sexual orientation, gender, race etc.-, who are loving, humble, serving, truthful and have deep real authority. Or are we imitating those who, like the Pharisees, do not practice what they preach and thus abuse others over whom they “rule”, give “judgment” and “guide”, rather than serve.
Jesus illuminates that the Pharisees are not really fully connecting with the spirit of the law – to love God with all of you and your neighbor as yourself – but are more concerned with the power, status and importance their positions give them and the way people look up to them. They lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of God`s people, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to help lift the burdens.
Jesus warns us as Christians to be careful when we make ourselves smaller and inferior, or bigger and superior. It is not our place or job; It is God`s job through Christ and the living indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who has the real deep authority that we need to trust, surrender to and follow in dealing with our daily struggles.
Then we will be set free to become more and more like Jesus Christ, able to connect with each other as brother and sister, equal in value, fully included by God to be part of God`s family, and therefore tasked to care for each other in love, being living concrete examples of carrying each other’s burdens in our faith communities and expressing our faith in the world as humble servants.
To think about: Are you a follower of Christ, in humble service of love to God, others and yourself, or are you a follower of power, prestige, right and wrong condemnations, out of perceived superiority or inferiority, as you deal with the challenges of HIV and AIDS?
Written By: Rev Judith Kotzé, Global Collaboration Manager at Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM)