31st Sunday OTA

MAL 1:14 – 2:2, 8 – 10; I THES 2: 7 – 9, 13; MT 23: 1-12

A Texas rancher met up with a Wisconsin dairy farmer. The two men began talking about their land and the milkman told the cattleman that he operated his business on 125 acres. The Texan scoffed at such a small parcel of land. He said, “Yankee, that ain’t nothin’. On my ranch I can get in my truck at sunrise and I won’t reach the fence line of my property until sunset.” The dairy farmer snorted, “Yeah, I used to have an old truck like that.”

Dear friends! Often we come across in our lives people who are full of themselves, proud and boasting. The central theme of today’s readings is a strong invitation and challenge to render humble, selfless, diligent, committed and loving service to others in the community without expecting honor or rewards. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi condemns the irresponsible, proud and lazy priests of his day. In the epistle, St. Paul presents himself as an ideal example of servant leadership in a serving Christian community.

In today’s gospel, Jesus offers a word of judgment against contemporary religious leaders who are more concerned about self-promotion than service to others. Jesus raises three objections to the Pharisees: they do not practice what they preach, they adopt a very narrow and burdensome interpretation of the Torah, and they seek public acknowledgment of their spiritual superiority.

Vatican II brought much change and renewal in the church. But it is interesting that the area of titles and way of addressing church leaders has undergone practically no change whatsoever. A priest is still called “Reverend Father,” a bishop “My Lord” or “Your Excellency,” a cardinal “Your Eminence,” the head of a religious community is still the “superior.” One wonders how the church allowed the use of these high-sounding titles to develop among the faithful, given the fact that the church has always read today’s gospel which cautions them against the use of titles that reflect a superior-inferior relationship.

The message of Christ has more to do with attitudes and behavior than with the use of words and terminologies. The Law of Christ has more to do with attitudes and behavior than with just words. As in other institutions, leaders in the church also have authority, but authority in the Church is service. Jesus demands from his Church leadership through service. “The greatest among you must be the servant of all” (Mt 23:11). Service was one of the most striking signs of Christ’s own life. He wants the same from leaders in his church.

The call to leadership through service is not addressed only to the clergy and to those who hold apostolic office in the church. All Christians are called to show leadership through service; parents, teachers, politicians, elders etc. People who do not seek to serve God and their fellow human beings cannot be Christians. The very motto of a Christian should be ‘I serve’.

One of the charges Jesus brought against the Phraisees is that, “They do not practice what they teach” (v. 3). They lack integrity of life and fail to practice what they preach. They create a double standard — they say one thing and do another. When parents create double standards by forbidding their children to do what they have no hesitation in doing themselves, they make the same mistake. We have some parents in our community who drop their children for CCD class but do not bring them to the Mass. I see some children in confirmation class whom I have not seen before. I don’t how I can help those parents and children to understand that God and his church is more than just going through certain rituals in the church. Some parents tell the children to go to church but they themselves do not. It is very important for the parents/elders to set an example to their children.

Service has been the keynote of great Christian leaders in history. Martin Luther King said: “If any of you are around when I have to meet my day and if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell him not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize; that is not important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other rewards; that is not important. I’d like somebody to mention that day that, “Martin Luther King tried to give his life serving others.”

As we go home today, let us each find out where we can render a service and render it with all our heart.