Each of us is of unique importance, yet only a part of the whole
By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time/Nov. 5
Malachi 1:14b — 2:2b,8-10; Psalm 13:1,2,3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9,13; Matthew 23:1-12
Christian Herter was running hard for re-election as governor of Massachusetts, and one day he arrived late at a barbecue. He’d had no breakfast or lunch, and he was famished. As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate and received one piece of chicken. The governor said to the serving lady, “Excuse me. Do you mind if I get another piece of chicken? I’m very hungry.”
The woman replied, “Sorry, I’m supposed to give one piece to each person.” He repeated, “But I’m starved,” and again she said, “Only one to a customer.” Herter decided this was the time to use the weight of his office. So he said, “Madam, do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state.” And she answered, “Do you know who I am? I’m the lady in charge of chicken. Move along, mister.” (William Bausch)
The prophet Malachi and Jesus are of the same mind when it comes to integrity. Their words are directed in both cases toward those in a place of authority.
“And now, O priests, you have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction,” we hear in the first reading from the Book of Malachi. “I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions. Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?”
In the passage from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus continues: “(The scribes and the Pharisees) tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. . . . They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces.” But their teachings are empty.
DON’T GET COMFORTABLE
The covenant to which Malachi and Jesus refer is the covenant that binds us all together and calls us to serve others. Following the covenant is about integrity. Integrity is about knowing what life is and living like you mean it. It is living a life of humble service.
Faithfulness to our integrity is very difficult to live when we are surrounded with a multitude of temptations to move up or settle in to the comfortable. We are all tempted to “sell out” for status and honor. That is undoubtedly why Jesus concludes his words with the admonition: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
Humility is truth. It is the truth that in the entire scheme of God’s whole of creation, each of us is of unique importance, yet only a part of the whole.
Micah, the prophet, says it most powerfully and succinctly: “This is what the Lord asks of you: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Humility or truth about ourselves produces integrity. Integrity produces faithfulness. Faithfulness is the goal of a life lived in the Lord’s service. St. Paul frames the message of Jesus so well: “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8)
The woman in the story at the beginning of this column understood being faithful to her mission of serving chicken. Do we understand our mission to remain faithful and humble in following the Lord’s covenant of loving God and serving each other?
SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.