The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
What a ridiculous and unworkable ideal. How could any system of government or organisation really operate on this principle?
Of course, everyone entrusted with power and authority claims to be serving the people. We all pretend to be more humble than we actually are. But in all relationships there are projections, role-playing and the games that people play with or against each other. In most games, too, people like to win.
So, before you know what is happening the service becomes a front for manipulation and humility becomes a form of domination. The masks are all off, as in Syria today or Libya a few months ago – or wherever the distorted love of power over others is threatened. It always takes two to tango, however, and decades can pass before those who are being exploited may react and rebel. Families, corporations, nations, we all play the same power game.
Where then is this teaching of Jesus coming from and what is it pointing to?
Healthy relationship is of course a two-way process and the chemistry of multiple relationships has many dimensions. But the fundamental principle of relational health is solitude. If we cannot find and sit in our ‘inner room’ or let ourselves ‘be led into the desert’ we cannot hold the detachment necessary for good relationship. Solitude is our finding the ground of being which is the oceanbed of all relationship. Only when we are humbled by that discovery can we realise that every human relationship is rooted in that ground of being. Every relationship in the cosmos mirrors the central relationship of being itself.
Jesus is not only telling us how we should behave. He is telling us what God is like.Laurence Freeman OSB