Many people have trouble with authority figures. Most likely, it is because they think that the authority figures have control over them since they are their “bosses.”
Recently, in the news there has been much coverage of how some men have “taken advantage” of women because these men have been the women’s “bosses.” How does one deal with something like this grave disparity?
In the Gospel for the Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 23:1-12) , Jesus deals with authority figures and offers appropriate responses. He does so by speaking of two significant issues. The one internal, and the other external.
First, the internal. Speaking to the crowds and to his disciples, Jesus says regarding the Scribes and the Pharisees (authority figures during Jesus’ times), “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to help them. All their works are performed to be seen.”
Jesus’ response to the present crowd and to his disciples regarding their “religious” bosses”? The simple statement, “You are all brothers,” calls to mind the Genesis perception that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God. (Gen. 1:26)
The Greek word used here for “brother” is adelphos which refers directly to the family member. This means that among family members there should not be “bosses” who feel they have control over other members. Jobs of responsibility, in which one gives orders and another accepts them, for the betterment of society—yes. Jobs of control over others—no.
The internal aspect of this relationship (boss and worker) is the realization that we are all family, hence brother and sister to each other, so there should be the treatment of mutual dignity. However, this internal aspect must be expressed in order for the relationship to be functional. How does this happen?
Second, the external. Jesus’ response to the internal expression of this family relationship is to be of genuine service to others. (Matt. 23-11) The Greek word is diakonos which is a word that deals with concrete issues, for example, doing justice, being compassionate, expressing forgiveness, and the rest of Jesus’ teachings. This is how members of God’s family should deal with each other.
In sum, we take seriously what Jesus alludes to in the Gospel. Internally, we are all members of God’s family (including bosses/workers). This internal realization expresses itself externally by way of service.
The final statement in this Gospel is, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” What does it mean to be “humble”? Fundamentally, it means being yourself, aware of your gifts and limitations. No one has been cheated, we all have gifts. We simply have to find out what they are. Limitations become clearer as time goes on. So, humility means being aware of our gifts and employ those while dealing with others. Humility also means being aware of our limitations and not allowing them to become more prominent than the gifts.
What we say and do tells people how humble we are. When gifts are more evident than the limitations in our human relationships, then people will know that we are in charge.