31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

 30 October 2011

Malachi 1.14,2.2, 8-10
1 Thessalonians 2.7-9,13
Matthew 23.1-12

Shortly after arriving in an African country I was appointed to teach in a High School. Three months later we were told that the Government Secretary for Education would be arriving for an official visit to the school.  This was considered a great honour. On the day he came to us our Principal and staff greeted him. When he entered the main assembly hall where all the students were seated they stood up once he came in. The Head boy read a suitable address of welcome and then the Secretary of Education addressed us all. I was very impressed by what he had to say. At the end of his address he was loudly applauded by all present. Unfortunately he said that he had another urgent appointment after his visit to our school so he needed to leave us then. After he went the students started rolling on the ground shouting and roaring with laughter. I couldn’t understand this until one of them explained its meaning to me. He said, “Father, he is one of the most corrupt politicians we have. He takes bribes, is often absent and when he spoke to us of the need to be disciplined and to be of service to others he was saying the exact opposite of what he himself does. He does not practise what he preaches”.

This incident came to mind as I was preparing today’s homily.  Jesus tells his hearers to listen to what their Jewish religious leaders say but warns them not to take them as their models because ‘they do not practise what they preach’. At the time of Jesus the religion of the Pharisees had become almost one of ostentation, that is, of outward show. Jesus is telling us that people who are granted a function or a responsibility in the community that they must carry it out with humility rather than considering themselves the centre or absolute reference for others. There is only one point of absolute reference for us Christians. We have only one Father, one Teacher, that is God. Of course, we can call our human fathers ‘father or daddy’ or our school teachers ‘teacher’. But it can never in the sense of their being given the honour which is due to God alone.

When I try to recall my own time in school I don’t remember much of what my teachers said but I remember quite well whether they were kind or harsh or tried their best to be of service to us. The Pharisees got caught up in laws and laid heavy burdens on people’s shoulders.  Jesus was a lifegiver and came to lead us to freedom and joy. He said “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full ‘.

It is a call to humble service as Jesus says today.  The reason that Jesus was so harsh on the Jewish religious leaders of his time was that they were leading the people astray.  They were the ones who were trained in the study of the Law and the Prophets i.e. the basis of their religion.  Instead of “giving glory to the name of the Lord” as Malachi says in today’s first reading, the Pharisees were seeking their own glory.  They wanted the places of honor at banquets, having the front seats at synagogues and all other marks of respect as well as wanting people to call them Rabbi, Teacher, Father.

Jesus is asking us simply to  “LET YOUR LIFE TELL GOD’S STORY” as I tried to do when I was with you. And he tells us how is may be done in the end of today’s gospel by serving and being there for others. “The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest”. This is the good news of today’s gospel since it is possible for any of us.  Jesus is inviting each of us to continue to do this in our daily lives and not just priests or religious. If I am the father or mother of a family, am I the best father or mother I can be for my family? If I am a son or daughter am I the best that I can be in that family. The call is to think of the others. Do not seek to be the center of attention. If I am a priest or sister or bishop, am I the best one I can be in using the talents God gives me in the service of others. The paradox is that the less we make ourselves the centre of attention and serve others, the happier we will be and the more peace and joy we will experience in our lives.  At least that is the experience of many as well as my own. 

Ultimately it is by realizing that Jesus went this way before us in his own life that he is now inviting us to follow his way. I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE (John 14.6). He emptied himself to come amongst us to show God’s total choice of and love for us. He knelt down and washed the apostles’ feet.  He fed the hungry and healed the sick. Why? To reveal to others that this is our heavenly Father’s way too.  God the Father is prepared to kneel at our feet and wash them if we will allow him. He will do anything apart from sin for our sakes. God is the ultimate servant for us. His only concern is our happiness, our joy, and our peace. Can we do anything less for others so as to reveal to them by our lives  ‘THIS IS OUR GOD and YOURS TOO! 

“Lord, it is not easy to be of service to others.  Give us the Holy Spirit so we can show others the kind of God you are – a servant to all.  Amen”

Fr.Jim Kirstein, SMA