Malachi 1: 14-2:2, 8-10 + Psalm 131 + 1 Thessalonians 2: 7-9, 13 + Matthew 23: 1-12
November 5, 2023 St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL
Of all the texts in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 23, verses 1 to 12 (That is this one.) is the most difficult and challenging text for me to preach. Every three years when the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time rolls around, I think about getting a sore throat or a fever and staying home. For years, this has been the case. Then suddenly, back at the end of September, I started to think about a sudden short vacation in early November. Maybe my family would like to see me? But, here I am face to face again with Matthew 23, forced to dig deeper into this text and stop doing what we all do way too often: think, I hope they are listening to this. For you, “they” may well be priests. For priests it’s usually Bishops we hope are listening to this. We all like to blame someone which is usually a way to deflect attention away from our own faults. Calling someone else a hypocrite because they don’t do what they say is way of keeping someone from noticing that we are not so consistent either. What I have come recognize with these verses is that this is about me not someone else.
The simplest way of hearing or reading these verses is to see them raising the question of Authority. These scribes and Pharisees Jesus attacks here are the “authorities.” When something or someone is “authentic”, it means being connected to the author of things. When you see the words Author and Authority together, you suddenly get it. The issue with the scribes and Pharisees is that the connection was broken between them and the author of things. That’s why Jesus Christ was so authentic, and why the people kept saying that he speaks with authority. The people heard God speaking through him. He was the real thing.
Herein lies the challenge to us. We have to be real. We have to be honest; first of all, with ourselves, and then with others. That is humility. The simple basic truth about who we are and what we are. We are not phony or fake, just real and true.
All of us seeking to better live the virtue of Humility will only arrive there when we know who we are and stop pretending, wishing, or faking it. It’s about honesty. Part of that means being open to feedback or criticism no matter who says it whether we like it. If someone says something that hurts, before getting in a snit, the humble will set aside the offence and think if there is any truth in what they have said no matter how they said it.
In the Gospel scheme of things, the greatest leaders and teachers are those who share their vision of faith not in words alone but by the power and authority of their example, in the honest integrity of their lives, in their commitment of service toward and respect for those in their charge. There is real joy to be found in an authentic life that is honest, true and humble. For these people of faith, it is the service, the act of doing good that brings that joy, not in some recognition, applause, or award. The real award simply comes from bringing the love of God into the lives of others.