31st Sunday In Ordinary Time
Cycle A | 5 November 2017
I Thes. 2: 7-13
Mt. 23: 1-12
INTRODUCTION: Our readings for this Sunday are tough for everyone but especially tough for those in positions of leadership in the Church. After 52 years as a priest and 34 as a bishop, the words we hear from the Prophet Malachi and the Lord Jesus are deeply challenging and unnerving.
(1) One or two General Comments: One, it is a distinctive mark of Israelite Religion that its great figures were especially sensitive to the ways that religion becomes bad. As sinners, everything human beings get involved with becomes bad, whether it be politics, arts, or science, even including religion. Corruptio optimi pessima!
When religion which should be the best in life becomes bad, it really gets bad. Hebrew prophets and Jesus regularly railed against corrupt religious leaders in their times and place. Nothing quite like it! In other religious traditions, most of these spokespersons would rather cover up the corruption of their religious leaders.
Two, though their language are very harsh, it should never be taken as a dismissal of religion itself. None of the prophets, including Jesus, in spite of their harsh criticism, stood against the priestly sacrifice or temple worship and therefore are not to be considered as some kind of French revolutionaries or modern rationalists or skeptics.
(2) The Prophet Malachi is the last prophet of the Old Testament (440 BC) who prophesied after the return of the Israelites from Babylon when the Temple and worship was being restored and he spoke against the corruption of the Clergy.
It haunts me that throughout the span of my Priesthood from 1965, there was a great exodus of priests due to crisis of identity of the Priesthood from vocation to profession with its consequent materialism, followed by sexual scandal of minors by priests and now the easy access to pornography through media and the e-mail. Listen now to Malachi: “I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a course.” Why?
“You have turned aside from the way and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the Covenant of Levi.” Levi is the tribe from whom Aaron the High Priest came and made his priestly vows and, therefore, every Catholic priest is a spiritual descendant of Levi.
(3) Jesus in the Gospel targets not the priests but the “scribes and Pharisees.” Scribes are not priests but Temple officials who interpret the Torah. Pharisees are special sect within Judaism who strove to lead every Jew to a life of exceptional purity. Jesus recognizes their legitimacy: “The scribes and Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teacher; therefore, do everything and observe everything they tell you. But do not follow their example.” Why? “They bind up heavy load, hard to carry, to lay on other men’s shoulder, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them.”
Note that Jesus is not complaining about the heavy load per se. In the Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5-7 he even intensifies it. Jesus is complaining about the unwillingness of the Pharisees to help the people to carry the burden they place upon them; their lack of love.
As Card. George told his seminarians: “Never just drop the truth on people and then walk away.” This is the style being recommended to us by the Magisterium and surely of John Paul II and Pope Francis. Convey the Truth but in love. The Pharisees use their Priesthood as a way of aggrandizing their ego. “They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels” to show how religious they were.
Note that Jesus does not recommend that we get rid of them. What he is against is that they use these to draw attention to their own ego. Note the future Pope Angelo Roncalli’s meditation when he was given the bishop’s episcopal vestments: “May the splendor of these garments always reminds me of the splendor of the souls I am called to serve.”
CONCLUSION: Let us keep in mind the words of Malachi and of Our Lord Jesus and ask ourselves how we inhabit our tasks as Spiritual Leaders. Are we bringing people to Christ or are we making them to falter?
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches