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What's in it For Us?

Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted
Malachi 1:14-2:2,8-10; Psalm 131:1-3; I Thessalonians 2:7-9,13; Matthew 23:1-12

Sermon Week Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Scripture Summary Matthew 23:12

One of the top 10 bestselling motivational books of all time, "Looking Out for Number One,"-1 was first published in 1977, and since, has been released in dozens of editions and formats. The author's additional book titles include "Winning through Intimidation," "Million Dollar Habits," and "Getting What you Want," among others.

In "Looking Out for Number One," the author argues strongly against generosity. For example, he says that if you "make the other person's happiness your first responsibility, you pervert the laws of nature"...and, "Unless someone is poor because you robbed him, no downtrodden individual is your responsibility." As Christians, we know the New Testament authors are telling us, of course, that if you follow such advice, you are perverting the law of God. Perhaps unsurprising to many, "Looking Out for Number One" persists as a major bestseller to this day. And we don't need to look very far to see jarring examples of the looking-out-for-number-one attitude in our present, national discourse.

Why does such a book sell so well in our time? Does the title attract us because it states our secret longings? Do our hearts echo "Yes!" to the notion that living well means abandoning our religious tradition of heroism or sainthood? Have we slipped so far down the ladder of morality that we're ready and willing to embrace the looking-out-for-number-one notion that other people are mere instruments of our pleasure and gratification and self-aggrandizement? Are we ready and willing to join those who pay lip-service to our Christian Faith while behaving in direct contradiction to our Christian morality and values? Are we willing to join those who seem to be laughing at Jesus' teaching that the number one priority in people's lives is not to satisfy their greed but to satisfy their brother's need?

Most of us first learned today's scripture lesson as children: "The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted (Mt. 23:12). Or earlier in Matthew, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last" (Matthew 20:16). At [...]

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