For the 31th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – November 5, 2017

“Let it be understood that those who are not found living as He taught are not Christian – even though they profess with their lips the teaching of Christ.”  (St. Justin)

This Sunday’s Theme: Conduct for Priests and Followers.

Reading 1 and the Gospel reading have some tough words for the religious leaders who lived in the time of Malachi and Jesus, respectively. In Reading 2, Paul shows himself to be a good and effective leader by serving with love those to whom he was sent to preach the Word.
Our divine Lord warned His disciples, and through them all of us, to avoid that pernicious vice of pride. It should not be hard for any true Christian to avoid this vice. We know that every material and spiritual talent we have has been given us by God, so we must give glory to God for any gifts we possess and not to ourselves. St. Paul reminds us of this fact when he asks us: “What have you that you have not received, and if you have received it why glory in it as if it were your own?” We owe everything we have to God and we should use all the gifts He has given us for His honor and glory, and for that purpose alone.

Reading 1 – Malachi 1:14b—2:2b,8-10     God judges the priests of Israel and calls them to be more faithful to the Covenant.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 131:1-3     Act of humble submission to God’s will and guidance.
Reading 2 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9,13     Paul gives thanks to God for the way in which the Thessalonians  received the word of God.
Gospel –  Matthew 23:1-12     Jesus warns against following the example of the scribes and the Pharisees and teaches that those who would be great must be   servants.

Reading 1     Malachi 1:14b—2:2b,8-10                   (Violating the Covenant)

Context – The book of Malachi gets its name not from the author, who is unknown, but from the opening words of the book “An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” Malachi is a Hebrew word meaning “my messenger.” This is the last Book of the Old Testament, written in the period 500 – 450 BC. Emphasis is upon sin, judgment, and repentance plus upon the advent of the day of the Lord. The central theme is fidelity to the Lord’s Covenant and its teachings. Along with its mention of the worship of God by the Gentiles with its mention of the advent of the Lord’s coming – new Covenant, it is fitting that this Book of the Bible concludes the Books of the prophets and precedes to the New Testament.
Today’s Reading – This passage addresses the restoration community of Israelites that had returned to the land from Babylonian captivity. Its purpose is to confront them with their sins and to encourage them to pursue holiness. Malachi uses the Mosaic Covenant as the standard by which he measured Israel’s conduct. He points out instances of covenant unfaithfulness and urged return to the covenant. For example, He addresses the priests who have defiled God’s altar by offering blind, diseased and crippled animals instead of the unblemished as required. He also blames the lay people who brought them in the first place.
Malachi 2:7 – “For a priest’s lips preserve knowledge, and instruction is to be sought from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”

A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts, and My name will be feared among the nations. And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to My name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts. (The priests of Malachi’s day had deviated from the straight path of truth and had caused many people who followed them to stumble through their instruction.) I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep My ways, but show partiality in your decisions. Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Malachi saw this watering-down of the sacrifice as a significant diminishment of Jewish religious gratitude. And, such cheating was abhorrent to him. Today, perhaps a fair comparison in Catholic pious Tradition might be when we substitute religious devotions in lieu of committed, active, conscientious, and significant generosity of time, talent, and treasure in our Church communities. (From The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild)
The Lord does not want worship without obedience. It is displeasing to the Lord and is a cardinal principle of the Old Testament religion. Do not let yourself be turned away from belief and obedience. – See: Psalm 51:15-17, 95:7-11, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, and Matthew 5:3.

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 131:1-3                     (Act of humble submission to God’s will and guidance)

Today’s Psalm – This psalm calls for our conduct of trust and confidence in God and for a spirit of humility.

R. – In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty; I busy not myself with great things, nor with things too sublime for me.
(Pride, in this sense, is essentially a belief that one does not need God but is self-sufficient. Haughty or lofty looks with the eyes betray a proud attitude because they look down on other people with a feeling of superiority. Pride also manifests itself in taking on projects for which one is not capable and thinking that one can handle them. The proud person overestimates his own abilities as well as his own importance. The humble person, however, has a realistic understanding of his or her capabilities and limitations.)
R. – In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.
R. – In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
O Israel, hope in the LORD, both now and forever.
R. – In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Reading 2.     1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9,13                    (God’s Good Tidings)        

Context – The church at Thessalonica was a very young church. Paul’s two letters focus upon confirming young converts in the elementary truth of the gospel, conditioning them to go on unto holy living, and comforting them regarding the return of Christ.
Today’s Reading – In contrast to the priests in Malachi’s time and the Scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ time, Paul proves himself to be an authentic teacher and leader who nurses his flock into God’s ways. While Paul is with the Thessalonians, he is like a “nursing mother.” Not only does he preach and teach, but he shares with them his very self. Finally, Paul reminds us that the Gospel he preaches is no mere human work but the power of God in our midst guiding our ways via the Holy Spirit. Our humbleness allows God to use us to do His will through us.

Brothers and sisters: We (Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy) were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the Word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Paul’s life and theological preaching is an example of how the Church ought to be in each and every age and place. “Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful! Enkindle in us the fire of your Divine Love! By your Grace, build us into a holy people who live in the Spirit’s strength, love, and self-discipline!” (From The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild)

Gospel     Matthew 23:1-12                            (The Virtue of Humility)

Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to  prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.
Today’s Reading – In this passage, Jesus specifically levels three criticisms at the Scribes and Pharisees. They do not practice what they preach. They are too legalistic in their interpretation of the Scriptures. They are full of their own self-importance, seeking the front seats and titles. This Gospel challenges today’s shepherds and all disciples to look into their own hearts and see to what extent the spirit of the Pharisee lies within.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. (That is, the interpretation of the Law was carried on through an unbroken chain of scribes all the way back to Moses.) Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (What is criticized here is not the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, but their practice; it doesn’t match their teaching. “Do as they say, not as they do.” ) They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries (They are small boxes which contain Scripture verses that are placed on the left forearm and forehead.) and lengthen their tassels (They refer to the fringes worn on the corners of a person’s garments; the tassels help to remind those who wear them to keep the commandments.). They 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. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. (The Church has always seen this as the prohibition of seeking fame and notoriety rather than a lesson in linguistics. The practice of calling priests “father” can be traced back to the monastic movement when the term served as a method of addressing a spiritual director.) Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one Master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. (Humility and service to God is what is important. Leadership positions should never be a goal in and of themselves, but should always be viewed as opportunities to serve others. One of the Pope’s titles is “Servant of the servants of God’) Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Religious leaders today – as well as every Church member at all levels – must hear Jesus’ criticism in this passage very personally. It takes great humility to hear criticism. Failure to hear effectively very often reveals a great lack of humility. Humility for Gospel believers helps us live lives of prudent competence, and compassionate fellowship.
The Gospel of Jesus is literally supposed to be “good news.” That is, it is supposed to help people carry their “burdens” in life in ways that are life-giving and liberating, not needlessly burdensome, oppressive, and superstitious. Honors and titles, while, affirming and encouraging, are without substance if not matched with competent, effective, compassionate, wise, and responsible lives.

Catechism 768 – So that she [the Church – i.e. all of us] can fulfill her mission, the Holy Spirit “bestows upon [the Church] varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her.” “Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her Founder and faithfully observing His precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom.”