Jesus is continuing to address his followers. This statement follows this one:
"The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:11-12)
"Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called 'Rabbi' by others. But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah." (Matthew 23:8-10)
Why is Jesus talking about 'the greatest'?The topic Jesus is turning to regards the desire to be the "greatest" - translated from the Greek word μείζων (meizōn). Why?
Because those who often claim the position of teacher (or rabbi - as a temple teacher during Jesus times' was referred to) often see themselves as being great. They seek the role of teacher in order to have some authority over others. This is despite the reality that the role of teacher is one of responsibility.
Though his words can be applied generally, Jesus is speaking of the temple priests and Pharisees. The phylacteries were small boxes wore on part of the body that held portions of scripture. Those with larger phylacteries were more respected.
Jesus had previously responded to a similar question posed by his disciples:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1)To which Jesus had replied similarly:
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)This answer, similarly, related to becoming humble - like a child - or here a servant.
In this case, Jesus was advising his followers not to take this course. He doesn't want them to struggle for the position of being seen as great by others. He doesn't want them to see authority and power.
This is because Jesus knows it will not make them happy - and it will lead to misleading others.
'Servant' of whom?The word "servant" in Jesus' statement is being translated from the Greek word διάκονος (diakonos) which means "one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master - a servant, attendant, minister."
Jesus is teaching that we are all created by God to be His loving servants. This is our natural position. None of us are masters.
Yet look around. We see practically everywhere, including in us, the desire to be famous, respected, admired, and have authority over others. We see that practically everyone around us is striving to become famous, wealthy, powerful, and thus have authority. Why are we all striving to be the greatest?
Let's go back to the part that God created us to be His loving servants. Love requires freedom. Without freedom, there is no such thing as love. In other words, we have to choose whether we want to love and serve the Supreme Being. Otherwise, we would simply be slaves or robots.
So while the Supreme Being created us as His loving servants, He also gave us the ability to choose between loving and serving Him; or serving someone else or serving ourselves.
Will serving ourselves make us happy?This is the assumption of the physical world. The world tells us that if we focus on ourselves - if we see ourselves as the great and as the center of the universe - we will become happy. We will become fulfilled.
Actually, the opposite is true. Self-focus yields emptiness.
Each of us was created to love. We were created to love each other and love the Supreme Being. God is full of love and He created beings that need love to survive.
This is why we see that children who are not given love when they are babies become hostile. This is why we seek the attention and admiration of others. This is why we spend our lives seeking a soul mate. We are made to love. We need love.
The problem is that because we were made to love, we seek love at every turn. If we don't give love then we want others to love us in whatever manner we can. When this is colored by materialism, we think that if we gain fame or authority, others will love us. But because others aren't really loving famous people in the physical world (mostly envy) we are left empty. This leaves us with an insatiable desire to become complete. This we try to achieve through greed and self-centered activity.
So why is it that there are so few people around us who choose to love and serve God? This is because this physical world is the place the Supreme Being set up for those who do not want to love and serve Him. This is a temporary place set up to teach us one lesson after another, in hopes that we will have a change of heart.
We might compare this physical world to those traveling carnivals that set up for a few weeks once a year outside a town. They set up their rides, the big Ferris wheel, amusement games, clowns, and stages. And for a couple of weeks, the townspeople come to the carnival. At the carnival, the people can enjoy all the rides and shows for a while, but then after a week or two, the carnival packs up and goes to the next town.
At the carnival there will be those who pretend they are cowboys or clowns, and do many tricks to attract attention. But once everything gets packed into the big trucks, everyone has to return to the reality of their day-to-day lives.
Our physical body is like the carnival. And the physical world is like the town the carnival comes to for a while. With the physical body, we can pretend to be someone we aren't. We can act out our desires. We can become a boss, become wealthy, become famous, drive a fancy car, and have others respect us. We can play out our fantasies to the degree our past allows.
For a while, that is - until our body dies. Then the charade is over. Then the whole façade fades away. All our accumulated wealth, our name, our possessions - they are all gone in a flash. Whatever position we held is finished. In other words, like the carnival, the physical world only has the illusion of permanence.
But the physical world is not that simple. We can't just do exactly what we want. Everything has a price. We must work hard, and make sacrifices to achieve positions of fame, power, wealth or influence. They are not free. There is a price for everything in this physical world. And to achieve status in the physical world often means sacrificing our quest for spiritual growth.
What are the consequences?There is also a consequence for everything we do in the physical world. Whether we help someone or hurt someone, we get returned to us what we put out. Whether it takes a lifetime or multiple lifetimes to have the consequences returned, every action eventually has its reaction.
These are the laws of the physical world because God also designed the physical world to teach us. He wants us to evolve, and learn who we really are, and what will make us ultimately happy. This is because He loves us.
Here we learn that being admired by others, being respected, having wealth and power - will not make us happy. Even with all these things, we are still empty inside. Yet when we help others, when we are merciful to others, when we love others, and when we serve others, we get a glimpse of happiness. This is because serving is part of our natural identity, and this world is set up to teach us this - if we choose to learn it.
The ultimate happiness is to return to our natural position as God's loving servant. While the physical world is ultimately set up to teach us that we are servants, we will still never be forced to become God's loving servants. In fact, quite the contrary. For those who begin the path towards resuming their position as God's loving servant, the mechanisms of the physical world tempt us and test us even harder.
Why? This is God's way of making sure that we really want to return to Him. He isn't looking for a convenient decision. He is looking for us to commit ourselves.
Is there another world?Yes. The spiritual world is quite the opposite place from the physical world. While we in the physical world are each trying to be the greatest, those inhabitants of the spiritual world are trying to give more and more of themselves. They want to be servants. They want to give themselves to God and God's associates. They each see themselves as the lowest and God as the greatest, and other children of God as greater than themselves.
This is the consciousness that pervades the spiritual world - the consciousness that brings complete fulfillment. No one is empty in the spiritual world - as we are here in the physical world. Here, even the most wealthy, powerful and well-respected of us who are not loving and serving God are empty within.
So Jesus is showing his followers what kind of consciousness they need to develop in order to return to the spiritual realm. He is trying to show them that the mechanisms of God's physical universe will eventually humble those who believe they are great. He is trying to shortcut his followers' learning by giving them the knowledge whereby they can have a change of consciousness without having to go through decades - even lifetimes - of learning before they can return to their homes in the spiritual world.
This is how Jesus can save us: by his teachings. And what was his greatest teaching?
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)