The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time November 5, 2017
Malachi 1, 14, 2, 8-10 + Psalm 131 + 1 Thessalonians 2, 7-9, 13 + Matthew 23, 1-12
Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma
If a pious Jew had taken seriously and practiced the kind of religion the Pharisees were teaching, they would have had ulcers and time for nothing else in life. Their homes would have been a mess, and they would have been out of a job and completely without friends. That religion enslaved them to a God who was a relentless taskmaster. The Pharisees themselves were trapped in a system that was totally self-focused thinking that what they did was going to save them. Nothing else! It was all up them.Their whole self-esteem rested upon the admiration of others, and so everything they did was to gain approval and impress other people. No wonder Jesus, his message and behavior, was so impossible for them to embrace.
Suddenly, the focus is off of one’s self to the point that titles are set aside because there is only one father and one teacher. In the religion Jesus describes, we do not pose as savior or master of anyone. If someone aspires to be number one they will be the first, but not the first in line. They will be the first to arrive when another has need, the first to forgive when there is offense, the first to heal when there is hurt. There is no mistaking the message of Jesus preserved in this Gospel. We are brothers and sisters. That’s that. In the matter of salvation and grace what we do is never done to look good or to earn something. It is done because we have been so blessed and given so much. Who we are is not a matter of titles earned, or for that matter bestowed by some authority, but rather a matter of who we are and how we behave.
I often wonder why so many of our young people have abandoned us and leave so many of these pews empty on Sunday. The more I think about it, the more I begin to feel as though the message of Jesus is still unfulfilled leaving us trapped in a religion that is sometimes more about rules and regulations than it is about is about relationships, friendship with God, and loving care for one another. Not always, but sometimes there is too little joy, too little excitement, too little desire to come together in praise and thanksgiving for the hope we share in this place. In homes where assembling for Mass is something anticipated with joy throughout the week, and in parishes where the welcome is sincere and the gifts of the Holy Spirit abound, there ought to be people lining the walls and waiting to get in. Moaning about the priest or the deacon, complaining about the music, criticizing the bishop, with negative comments about the parish do nothing to bring life and hope, joy and peace into a community. This has to be a place of forgiveness, respect, and joy where people who may have been battered around during the week can come for healing and understanding, where people whose skin color or accent makes them feel unwelcome can find a home, where people whose sexual identity is different are treated like children of God, where people who are worn and tired with age and work find a gentle shoulder to lean on, and where people who feel alone can find a companion.
In these verses today, Jesus has four criticisms of the Pharisees with which we might inspect and critique ourselves as a church. 1) Practice what you preach. 2) Obey God’s commands which are always about love and service. 3) Piety that attracts the attention of others and their admiration is wrong. 4) Do nothing for the sake of recognition and honor, which really means don’t be disappointed or angry when you are not recognized for doing the right thing even when no one is looking. With this wisdom, we can safely avoid the woes and worries that threatened those Pharisees trusting that this wisdom is always relevant in every age and in every place. Integrity is what matters, and it is a noble and necessary trait for disciples of Jesus Christ.