In our Gospel reading for today, we hear Jesus denouncing the scribes and Pharisees of His day. And at the end of this particular passage, He says, "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." It seems to me that humility is at the heart of the matter in Jesus' denunciation. The Pharisees Jesus is talking about were too caught up in their own prestige in the community, and too often looked down on others.
It seems that the Pharisees and scribes failed to have the same attitude as Ezekiel does in our first reading. In that reading, Ezekiel has a vision in which he is brought into the presence of God. His attitude is one of humility: "I fell prone as the glory of the Lord entered the temple by way of the gate which faces the east."
Perhaps the Pharisees would prostrate themselves before God like Ezekiel, but if that humility was not extended to their views of themselves or others, then it would be a hollow gesture. When we recognize that we are not God, and that we do not have God all figured out, and that we rely so much on God's love and mercy, we get a true perspective about ourselves and others.
Jesus accuses the Pharisees and the scribes of laying burdens on people's shoulders, without doing anything to help them. We can't even try to do that! In his vision, Ezekiel says that "spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court." Imperfect as we are, God lifts us up to do the work He has for us to do. We are called to be about lifting up others! As fellow pilgrims on the journey, there is no need to try to lord it over others, or make a spectacle of how holy we think we are! Instead, we are to help others along the way, as we are helped. May we follow the example of Jesus, and be humble servants of all.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.