The readings of this Sunday denounce in strong terms the religious piety that is disconnected from life. It means that the faith we profess in God should be seen in the way we live. So the question is: what’s the place of my faith in my daily interaction with others? Do I really practise my faith?
Bible readings Malachi 1: 14-2: 10 Psalm 131 Thessalonians 2: 7-13 Matthew 23: 1-12
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
In the first reading God, through prophet Malachi, denounces the priests: “…you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi…” What’s happening here?
Here we think of the time when the influential power in the Jewish society is concentrated around the temple, a situation that reinforces the authority of priests. Religious, political and judicial powers are invested in them. The problem is not only that priests monopolise the power but also, and more importantly, what do they do with it? Do they keep a good balance? Does such power help them to be more effective in their primary role as religious leaders? Do they use their influence to guide people and protect the little ones in the society?
Well, Malachi leaves us with no doubt: there is serious deviation, even to the point of misleading others. That’s why the prophet calls them to put things in order and return to the true sense of the cult they perform.
They teach but they don’t practise
We find the similar case in the Gospel where Jesus denounces the Pharisees who are good at interpreting the law and yet they don’t live up to it: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” The law is there to help people live according to the commandment of love; love of God and love of neighbour. So, if they don’t practise it, then, there’s something missing in the religious practice of the Pharisees.
Priest and Pharisees as our mirror
The temptation is high to distance myself and say: this is not for me; it’s a sin of priests and Pharisees. Well, are there not times when I have also gone off the road? Are there not times when I have reduced my Christian life to merely fulfilling some rituals? In this case, it may be helpful to see myself in the mirror of these priests and Pharisees and I may be surprised to find out that we actually have a lot in common. It means, I also have some homework to do.
Of course, Jesus recognises the important role that Pharisees play as interpreters of the law but he wonders: what’s the use of beautiful interpretations if they do not render beautiful living together with others? This is to say, something is missing in this otherwise good job that Pharisees do. And for me, isn’t there something missing in the way I live my Christian faith?
Teacher and witness
In the second Reading Paul tells the Christians of Thessalonica: we shared with you not only the Gospel but also ourselves. Oftren Paul does not hesitate to exhort the communities he has founded to imitate him: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Cor 11:1). Well, it may sound a bit like complacency. Yet, we can also appreciate someone who is not only confident of the message announces but also of the witness he gives by his life. The Gospel he preaches has become part of this life so that others can look up to him. Do I have this bravery of Paul to tell others –follow my example? Paul is not only a good teacher but also a good witness.
Here I think of the words of Pope Paul VI who said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than teachers, or if he listens to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
We shouldn’t go far away searching for examples. Just look at the influence of parents and educators on children. A good part of what children will reproduce in terms of behaviour is not so much of what they hear, but rather, what they see from parents and educators.
Thank you Jesus for inviting me to pay a little more attention to the relation between the faith I profess and the way I live, especially with others. May this word be for me a point of new departure so that I may announce the Good News both by words and deeds.
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See also: Homily: Solemnity of All Saints, A