05Nov 05 November 2017. 31st Sunday in OT

Saint Martin de Porres

The Bible calls us to examine the fibre of our lives, to shake off hypocrisy and see the truth about ourselves, in God’s sight. Bishops and others in leadership have special need to be self-critical, for the potential to be Pharisaic resides in all of us.

1st Reading: Malachi 1:14, 2:2, 8-10

Israel’s unworthy priests are blamed; for not listening to God they mislead the people

I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations. And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.

But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction. Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?

2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13

Paul recalls the love and care he has shown to the Thessalonians

We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus attacks the scribes and Pharisees for their false forms of piety

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


Integrity is badly needed, today

“You have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble; you have corrupted the covenant.” Those ringing words hurled by prophet Malachi at the temple priests in Jerusalem could just as well today be applied to bankers, chiefs of police, politicians and other civic leaders in Ireland, 2917. These were the ones who, alongside priests, doctors and teachers, used to be trusted to do their jobs generously and fairly. Nowadays we suffer a famine of integrity at the top of Irish society.

If ordinary people are to recover any confidence in our ruling class and feel they have a real stake in society, they need new examples of selfless leadership, examples of trustworthy integrity. We may well yearn for a return to the sort of proven, inspirational leadership that we perceived in church and state in a previous era. But the chances of better social cohesion and of greater trust between the leaders and the led will be greatly enhanced if strong belief in God were to flourish among us again; and if the Lord’s words were taken seriously by all of us: “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus and the Pharisees

The Gospels show many conflicts between Christ and the Pharisees. Generally he denounces their tendency to equate morality with law. The brand of Pharisaism he criticises believed that all that God wants of us is obedience to the Law, plus works of piety, fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The Pharisees stressed little things (Tithe of mint, dill and cummin) while neglecting the major matters: faith, justice and mercy. They zealously made converts who duly became legalists themselves. In short, the Pharisees tended to be hypocrites, in the eyes of Jesus.

Today’s Gospel invites all, especially devout people who may tend to be judgmental of others, to examine our consciences. We need a precious gift of God, the willingness to face up to ourselves by acknowledging our personal and social guilt.

They don’t practice what they preach

José Antonio Pagola

Jesus’  words today are a harsh criticism of Israel’s religious leaders. Around 80 AD Matthew records this critique to avoid the leaders of the Christian Church falling into similar attitudes. Can we today reflect peacefully on Jesus’ words, in an attitude of conversion, without sterile polemics? His words challenge bishops, priests and anyone with any church responsibility, to make an examination of our own conduct. «They don’t do what they say». How often indeed, do we fall into incoherence, not living what we preach? We have a ministerial mission, but we lack moral authority. Our behaviour betrays us. A more evangelical simplicity of life on behalf of the priest could change the atmosphere in many Christian communities.

«They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them?». Are we demanding and harsh with others, but tolerant and lax with ourselves. Perhaps we suffocate our people with our requirements, but don’t help them welcome the Gospel. We aren’t like Jesus who concerned himself with making their burden light, for he is humble and has a simple heart.

«Everything they do is done to attract attention». Are we too conscious of image, always trying to «look good» in others’ eyes. We don’t prioritise the God who sees in secret but care about our personal prestige. «They like to take the place of honour and the front seats… being greeted respectfully and having people call them Master». It’s a bit embarrassing, but don’t we like it when people treat us as special, not like just everyone else? Is there anything more absurd than a bishop or priest posing as a celebrity within the Christian community?

«You must not allow yourselves to be called master… because only one is your Master and your Teacher: the Christ». The Gospel mandate couldn’t be clearer: Renounce pomp and titles in order so as not to overshadow the centrality of Jesus Christ; direct the attention of your people only toward him. Why doesn’t our Church get rid of so many titles, privileges, honors and ranks in order to show better the humble face of Jesus?

«You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven». For Jesus, the title of Father is so unique, so profound, and intimate that it really ought not be used for anyone else. Why do we still allow it without at least a blush of shame?

Beware of animated aimlessness

Today’s second reading challenges the whole congregation but especially the preacher, to live up to what we say we are, disciples, followers of Christ. We are called to live by love, love in its truest sense.

This word “Love” is much used but imperfectly understood and practiced. Jesus lived out its real meaning in his life, death and resurrection. But he did not do this in order to dispense us from sharing personally in his selfless love. To be truly saved, to be Christians along with Him, we must in our turn undergo death and resurrection. We must practise what we preach! He wants us to mean what we say and do what we promise.

In the play A Man for All Seasons about the martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, there is a scene in which Margaret, More’s daughter, pleads with her father to stop opposing the king (the despotic Henry VIII) and just swear to the Act of Succession like everybody else. Only in this way can More save his life and get out of jail. But Thomas More refuses to agree to something he believes to be fundamentally wrong. His answer to Margaret is Stoical and principled.

“If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good and greed would make us saintly.. But since we see that anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit us far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude and justice, if we have to choose to be human at all, then perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes.” When Margaret still begged him to compromise: “Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?” her father gave this answer: “Well.. finally.. it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”

Such unconditional love is what Jesus spoke about and practised. In the end we shall be judged on that standard alone. Our own efforts to bring direction and meaning to the “animated aimlessness” of our lives will, if touched by the love of God and expressed through love of our fellow human beings, have an eternal value.


Saint Martin de Porres

Martin de Porres Velázquez (1579-1639), was a lay brother of the Dominican Order He was noted for work on behalf of the poor, establishing an orphanage and a children’s hospital. Many miracles are attributed to him, including instantaneous cures, and an ability to communicate with animals. He was beatified in 1837 and canonized in 1962. He is the patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health workers, and workers for racial harmony.

2 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    «You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven». For Jesus, the title of Father is so unique, profound, and intimate that it really ought not be used for anyone else. Why do we still allow it?”

    An excellent point, I have tried to avoided the use of calling priests father for some considerable time now and use the term ‘Pastor’ wherever possible, as the term father/teacher to any other than to our true Father and Creator is offensive to Him, as it undermines the Inviolate Word (Will) of God given to us within the Gospels causing (through double talk) confusion amongst the laity and nonbelievers while at the same time it belittles the teachings of Jesus Christ before all of mankind.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Pádraig McCarthy

    Malachi’s protected disclosure in the first reading: he’s a whistleblower. The name is a pseudonym: “my messenger”!
    The phylacteries worn on the upper arm near the heart, and on the forehead, contain scripture, including from two weeks ago: Love the Lord your God with all your heart …” Like wearing the colours of your team, or a baseball cap with “Make America Great Again!” The tassels represent the Torah, the gift of God’s law, on the corners of the prayer shawl: clothe yourself in the Torah, which is held in the position of honour in the synagogue. Romans 13 echoes this: “clothe yourselves in Christ” – symbolised by the baptismal shawl.
    Most of all I like the start of the reading from 1 Thessalonians. As above: “We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” Or as NetBible: “Like a nursing mother caring for her own children.”
    This from Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy – three men as wet nurse!
    I wonder is there an echo here of “milk-kinship.” We tend to think of blood-relationship as the basis of kinship and bonding, but there is also the tradition that those who share the same nursing mother or wet-nurse are seen as kin, even so far as to become a factor in marriage. See Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 2012, Cynthia Chapman: “Breast Milk as a Kinship-Forging Substance”: http://www.jhsonline.org/Articles/article_169.pdf.
    It’s not ancient history: the tradition is still strong. See Arab News 2007: http://www.arabnews.com/node/303042
    A strange (to us) manifestation in 2010: Saudi women not permitted to drive, and not permitted to be in a car with a man not a relative, threatened to breast-feed the chauffeur so that he becomes a son! –
    The restriction on women driving is being eased.