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Ordinary Time 31 (A)
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Readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. Malachi 1, 14 to 2, 10

  • It begins with an affirmation.  A great king am I, says the Lord of hosts.  And I remember the repeated affirmations in the Torah: I am the Lord. 
  • And now comes a commandment.  O priests: Give glory to my name.  Then the denunciation.  If you do not listen, I will send a curse upon you.  This prophet is poetic, stark and severe.  The language is decisive, with no middle ground. 
  • Those in authority – over God’s people or over a nation – are accountable to God.  The offenses the prophet reports are political as well as religious: You show partiality in your decisions.
  • No plea bargaining takes place in this court, and no mere slaps on the wrist are meted out.  Of your blessing I will make a curse.  The offense is most serious: You have turned aside from the way and caused many to falter by your instruction.  Unless those in God’s service imitate God, how will the opening verse come to fulfillment?  My name will be feared among the nations.
  • I end as the prophet speaking for the people, so my tone must change.  Have we not all the one Father?  And I recall the admonition of Jesus in today’s Gospel: that we have one Father, and none among us should seek titles of honor.
  • Climax: The affirmation in the first verse is the basis for all that follows, just as the affirmation “I am the Lord” is the foundation of the Law of Moses.  I will begin my reading on the mountaintop and remain there throughout.
  • Message for our assembly: Yes, it is a prophetic judgment against the high priesthood of ancient Israel.  But we can apply it to ourselves, since we have all learned the great commandment and are called to serve each other.  Do we listen and lay it to heart?
  • I will challenge myself: To avoid looking directly at anyone today (at least until the final verse) and to avoid ad hominem denunciations.  Let us imagine we are overhearing the words of judgment from a different time and place.  If I fulfill my ministry and they listen, they will know whether it applies to them.

 

2. 1 Thessalonians 2, 7-9 and 13

  • In this reading I hear the three missionaries, Paul, Silas and Timothy, describing their work of witnessing to Christ at Thessalonika.  I hear some tender expressions: We were gentle among you, we were determined to share with you the gospel of God. 
  • As I read and interpret the letter for our assembly, I am commenting on the kinds of behavior we expect from our own church leaders, who are called to imitate Jesus as one who serves.  Let me pay attention to the key words: as a nursing mother, with such affection for you, share the gospel of God and our very selves as well, working night and day, in order not to burden any of you.  And let all of us in ministry measure ourselves against this benchmark.
  • But most important of all, they pray: We give thanks to God unceasingly.  Those are the very words we repeat in each Eucharistic prayer.  And they give all the credit to God: The word of God is now at work in you.
  • Climax: The last sentence shows that the mission was divine in origin and purpose.  In receiving the word of God from us, you received not a human word but the word of God which is now at work in you. 
  • The message for our assembly: We overhear the letter, but we must follow the example of the church in Thessalonika, welcoming the word as they did.
  • I will challenge myself: To adopt the sense of gratitude the writers show, that their efforts to bring the Good News to this city have paid off.

 

Gospel. Matthew 23, 1-12

  • We hear Jesus talking about the teaching authority of his time, and we remember that more is demanded of those to whom more is entrusted.  It works in our time and it worked then also.  The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Their God-given authority is not in question here.  Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you.
  • From this point on, the passage is full of condemnation.  Do not follow their example.  Jesus reserved his harshest rebukes not for violators of the ten commandments, but for those who abuse their role of service to the people.  He denounced in particular the hypocrisy of the elders.  They preach but they do not practice.  I recall that our own church imitates in too many ways the human institutions around us, with their eye on career building and material success.  We are becoming painfully aware of cover-ups of abuses, at the highest levels, over many years. 
  • All religious leaders and teachers are measured against the norm of Jesus himself, and finally against God whom Jesus embodies perfectly.  I will take each item one by one and let the congregation find the connection: They tie up heavy burdens, their works are performed to be seen, places of honor, greetings, salutations.
  • Then Jesus denounces the custom among the priestly families to strive after titles of honor in his society: Rabbi, father, teacher.  His judgment is categorical and final, leaving no exceptions.  Recently the Vatican made public a criticism of career ambitions among our bishops.  I will repeat the words with the same finality that is present in the text: Do not be called Rabbi, Call no one on earth your father, Do not be called Master.
  • Climax: The greatest among you must be your servant.  Ah, there are plenty of titles to scrap about in the church.  But who will remember to serve?
  • Message for our assembly: The church is primarily a home where we serve each other, and where no one is exempt from discerning the Lord’s will for us.  Let us remember: You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
  • I will challenge myself: To avoid looking at anyone in particular as I read.  I will not change the world with one reading, and indeed I must also ask for forgiveness for my own ambitions.  But I pray that we will make a collective examination of conscience, as together we apply the judgment of the Lord to our ministry.

Word to Eucharist: Let us remember and keep alive our equality before God.  Although there are offices and ministries, and although some get to stand in front during solemn liturgies, we are essentially one in Christ.  Let us all approach in faith and fear, especially those of us to whom much has been given and from whom much is expected.

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