Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi: 1,14-2,2; 8-10; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians: 2,7-9,13 Matthew: 23, 1-12 Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen November 5, 2023
Although I was born into a large family, my father and my oldest uncle were away at war. My uncle Jim and his wife Pat had a son, who had been born six months before me. However, they did not live near us, and as the youngest child in the family, everyone’s attention was always on me. When I was only two and a half, I could already recite long poems that had been read to me by my mother from a book called: “The Best Loved Poems of the American People”. The book was given to my mother as a Christmas gift, by her mother in 1945, and I still have that book in my library. In those days, many of my grandmother’s friends would meet, several times a week at each other’s house, and I would always be present. With my long blond curls, and little blue sailor suit, I would proudly stand before the group of women and recite long poems to everyone’s amazement. How they would applaud, and how much I loved all the attention I would get, and I never wanted it to end.
Most people feel the same way, we want others to like us, to praise us, to think that we are special, that we hold a place of honor among them. It’s like that in our day and age, and it was like that in the days and place where Jesus lived. Sometimes when we listen to the Gospel being read, we can hear a voice of frustration speaking to us. That voice can be heard in the reading from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew is torn between his respect for the Law and his criticism of the Law as interpreted by the Scribes and the Pharisees. He is trying to show respect to the two major groups he is speaking to, the Jewish people who had become Christians, and those who did not believe in God. Jews who had not become Christians excluded all Christians from the Temple, while the Jews who had become Christian did not want the Gentiles attending their services. So, Matthew tries to show that Jesus is the Messiah, revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and that Jesus is the lawgiver of the Church.
In that atmosphere of hostility, especially among the religious leaders, Matthew writes his Gospel, reflecting the conflict between Christians and Jews in his own city. The Scribes and Pharisees are presented as bad examples of religious leadership, even though there were good ones, they are not to be followed by the Christian community. Then come the words of Jesus: “You Scribes and Pharisees, everything you do is done to attract attention. Your words are bold, but your deeds are few. You bind up heavy loads, hard for people to carry, you are fond of places of honor, front seats at gatherings, and marks of respect in public.” The Scribes and Pharisees serve as useful examples, religious leaders of the people who oppose the Church and its style of leadership.
What was true during the time of Jesus is also true for us today. Just a week ago Pope Francis spoke to us about this problem facing our Church today. “I like to think of the Church as the simple and humble people of God. These holy and faithful people have a soul, a conscience, and a way of seeing reality. When your religious leaders overstep in their service and mistreat the people of God, they disfigure the face of the Church with their chauvinistic and dictatorial attitudes. Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages the Lord’s Church. It enslaves God’s Holy people, the Pope said. Nevertheless, he said, “the people of God, the holy faithful people of God, go forward with patience and humility, enduring the scorn, mistreatment, and marginalization on the part of the institutionalized priesthood.” Listen once again to what Jesus had said: “The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
For this very reason, I thank God constantly, that my messages to you have been taken, not as mere words, but as they truly are, the Word of God, at work within you who believe.