Sunday evening I watched the season finale of Downton Abbey and was once again amazed and confused by all the roles and divisions in the “upstairs/downstairs” of the house. The differences between first valet and butler or downstairs maid and the kitchen staff who never saw the light of the upstairs was daunting, to say the least. Happily, the last sequence of the season was the annual Christmas party at the manor to which all tenants and servants were invited and all happily sang carols as “one big happy family.” There was a chink in the armor of tradition in that event because Lady Rose had married a Jewish man earlier in the year and it was his first Christmas celebration. All took that in stride because they loved Rose and because he was a lovable chap as well. Although the theme of the entire series is the transformation of British society in the 20th century and the necessity of accepting change in order to survive, I found myself marveling that what was portrayed on Sunday could have been accurate (as they claim) and acceptable just decades ago in Western society.
I was reminded of all that this morning when I heard Jesus say to the crowds and to his disciples, “They (the Scribes and Pharisees) love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher and you are all brothers…The greatest among you must be your servant…” (MT 23: 1-12) This doesn’t mean, of course, that we ought not to accept the gifts and talents that God has given us but rather that we not think of ourselves as intrinsically better than other people. Sometimes the sense of superiority is subtle and it’s good for us to stay awake to its approach. When I sing in church so that people will notice my lovely voice, when I fix a computer glitch that “anyone could manage” or when I ace an exam, smiling as I finish faster than the others…it’s time to take a look at where humility resides and remember to be grateful to God for all I have been given. And step two is the ability to find the diversity of gifts that exist among us in the great family of equals in God’s eyes.