WelCom November 2023
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 23:1-12
1Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples saying, 2‘The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3Therefore, you must do and observe what they tell you; but do not follow their example. For they do not practise what they preach. 4They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
5‘Everything they do is preformed to be seen, like wearing broader headbands and longer tassels. 6They love to take the place of honour at banquets, seats of honour in synagogues, 7being greeted respectfully in the market squares and having people call them “Rabbi”.
8‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called “Rabbi”. You have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ.
11‘The greatest among you must be your servant.12Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Reflection for 31st Sunday’s Gospel
Kevin Dobbyn fms
We are well prepared for today’s gospel by the reading from Malachi, the last book of the Old (First) Testament that prepares us for the demands of the Gospel. His warnings are strident: And now, O priests, this command is for you…you have caused many to stumble by your instruction…I make you despised before all the people.
It would be a mistake to take this out of context, point to clerical sexual abuse and blame clergy and religious for the shame many of us have felt about being Catholic, as some media and governmental groups would like to reinforce somewhat judgementally. What Malachi addresses for us 21st century disciples, is the danger of clericalism, not something specific to the ordained, but to certain leaders in a variety of ministries who relish power over others.
The community that Matthew was writing for was largely Jewish; it was to the leadership of those Jewish communities that he put on the lips of Jesus the harshest criticism. Pope Francis has been consistently insistent that good shepherds should have the smell of the sheep on them; Jesus reminds us that the greatest among us should be our servants. Present day scribes and Pharisees can pay too much attention to rules and rubrics dressed in black and white while ignoring the grey of life in the ordinary joys and sorrows of daily faithfulness to the Gospel I see in so many believers I am privileged to know.
Again echoing Malachi 2:10, Jesus in Matthew says: Call no one on earth your father since you have only one Father – in heaven since you are all brothers and sisters (Mt 23:8-9); an instruction conveniently forgotten in our major Catholic, Orthodox and sometimes Anglican churches, despite the urging of Cardinal John to stop calling our priests ‘Father’. Recognising the priesthood of our common baptism gives us a way out of the institutional shame and guilt. It is not enough to confess our personal sin; we must also confess our communal and institutional sin of Catholic arrogance that is not just post-Tridentine, but centuries old. Synodality is the Spirit’s wake up call which, to be effective has to be equally as local as it is presently global.