November 5, 2017 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Fr Jim Miller

Reading 1 MAL 1:14B-2:2B, 8-10

Responsorial Psalm PS 131:1, 2, 3

  1. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

Reading 2 1 THES 2:7B-9, 13

Alleluia MT 23:9B, 10B

You have but one Father in heaven
and one master, the Christ.

Gospel MT 23:1-12

Homily— November 4 & 5, 2017 

Maybe you have seen or at least heard about the billboard along the highway that stated “Don’t make me come down there!”   It was signed, “God.”   This might sum up the first reading and Gospel for this weekend.

Malachi lambasts corrupt priests, and Jesus is on a roll as he goes after the hypocritical religious leaders of his day.   That may make you, the people in the pews, feel nice and comfy until you remember that the Gospel is designed to call us to conversion, not reinforce our self-righteousness.

Some years ago Cardinal Francis George spoke to the students of Mundelein Seminary where our seminarians now study.   He said, “You cannot simply drop the truth on people and then walk away, convinced that you’ve done your duty.  Rather, once you tell your people the truth, you must be committed to helping them integrate that truth into their lives.”

Bishop Barron remembers a professor who commented that we should be willing to criticize others for their moral behavior precisely in the measure that we are willing to help them deal with the problem that we’ve identified.  Here is the bottom line:  if you have no interest in walking with a fellow sinner, you should keep your criticisms to yourself.

Today’s Gospel brings us into the core of Jesus’ moral teaching.  What Jesus demands of the people of the covenant is integrity, being who you say you are, making all your behavior an expression of your beliefs, no matter the cost.

It was Jesus’ integrity that allowed him to heal on the Sabbath; he knew that God’s will was for the well-being of people, no matter the cult restrictions.  Integrity led Jesus to the cross because his life meant nothing if he weren’t faithful to his Father.  Integrity means that you have learned what life means and you live your life like you mean it.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is agreeing with Malachi’s message by stating strongly to his disciples that they are to minister without concern for rank or privilege and with impartiality.  Indeed, Jesus showed that he came to serve everyone wherever he found him or her, and he found all kinds:  lepers, those possessed by demons, and outcasts like the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus healed them simply by putting himself second and venturing among the marginalized.  All Christians need to learn to relate to authority according to Jesus’ commands in today’s Gospel.

Organized religion exists to offer God adoration and service.  Religious leaders, both official and unofficial, should be the foremost examples of such devotion.  But God is difficult to perceive, and people can get confused and instead start worshiping the religion rather than the one it serves.  Likewise, leaders can use the structures of a religion to serve themselves, twisting the teachings of the faith to attain wealth, power or sex.

Jesus warns against this twofold temptation.  He rebukes leaders who draw attention away from God.   In his own day, the scribes and Pharisees did so with ostentatious religious garb and tokens of social status.

So, let’s go back to us in the pews.  What did Jesus want the ordinary folk in his audience to hear when he went after the scribes and Pharisees?  He made one thing crystal clear:  “Do not follow their example.”  He went on to tell them, call no one your teacher, father or master, but look for the ones who serve.  They are the ones showing the way to God.

There are many kinds of service today, but one we may be short on is the service of being willing to talk about the core questions of life.  Polite people have been taught to avoid conversations about religion and politics because some people don’t want to be confrontational.

We all like honors, titles, prestige, privileges, perks.  In themselves, these are neutral.  Made to be ends in themselves, however, they are stumbling blocks to personal integrity, wholesome relationships, and humble service of others.  

Jesus himself had many titles:  Christ, Messiah, Rabbi, Master, prophet.  But he did not treat any of these as ends in themselves, but always as ways of leading others to the exalted Life given him by the Father.  He is, indeed, the true Teacher and Master.  When we listen to Jesus and follow him faithfully, we become like him in our humble service and our fidelity to the will of God.  In this we truly reveal who Jesus is and who we are in him, a humble servant.