HOMILY: 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR A
THEME: O PRIESTS THIS COMMANDMENT IS FOR YOU!
Fr. Augustine Ikechukwu Opara
(MALACHI 1:14B-2:2B,8-10; 1THESSALONIANS 2:7B-9,13; MATTHEW 23:1-12)
Today’s first reading from the Oracle of the prophet Malachi denounces us the religious leaders for our failure truly to give glory to God, both by our sacrifices and by our failures in moral leadership. Are we really striving to give leadership in celebrating the covenant between God and his people? The reading is obviously chosen to pair with the gospel reading, where the religious leadership at the time of Jesus is also fiercely criticized. Slackness in religious observance is a danger in any age, even our own.
There is this story of a dying old man who was struggling and murmuring and requested to see a priest. When the priest came, he observed the man’s distress and asked him why he is worried. The man said that he remembered one dangerous act he did as a growing teenager. One day while they were playing at a crossroad, he turned a sign facing east to the west. And now he wonders how many people that singular action led astray. Hence, rather than being good news instructing or directing people towards the right part, it is now leading whoever obeys it to distress. God Forbid! This is exactly what happens when we toil with the message of eternal life, when instead of employing it positively, we employ it negatively for our own selfish gains or motives as some of us priests, pastors, and religious do.
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Jesus replicates the same message in the gospel. The Pharisees became the Teachers of the Torah (the law Of Moses) between 150-140 BCE. With the Hebrew name, ‘Perushim’ meaning ‘to separate’, they emerged as a distinct group shortly after the Maccabean revolt. This was a rather fitting name, as they made it their mission to distance themselves from any influence that did not fall in line with their interpretation of the Torah and the Jewish traditions. The ‘scribes’ were lawyers to whom they would turn in the case of a clash between two laws. It is good to follow laws and good to be able to work out what the laws are telling you to do, but their attention to details and their fussiness often made them lose sight of the real purpose of the Law. So, like the priests of this day, they were the moral teachers of Jesus’ time.
While it is important to note that this message is meant as it were for “Priests” and all “Pastors of souls”. There is a little twist to it. According to Lumen gentium, “But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. they likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG.10). Thus, it is equally important to note that by virtue of our baptismal priesthood (common priesthood), God is equally speaking to each one of us, every Christian. The reason for this is quite simple, we are all expected to lead and teach rightly the message of eternal life. It is a call to live rightly, to be just and most importantly to glorify God our creator.
It is, however, very important also, not to misunderstand Jesus’ message about being calling anyone “Rabbi” or “Father.” What Jesus is denouncing here is earthly pride which is opposed to the message of eternal life he preached. He in no way permits us to disrespect authorities or to insult those in position by calling them derogatory names instead of giving them the honor that is due to them. Such behavior would equally, run contrary to God’s teachings, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Heb 13, 17).
My brothers and sisters, Jesus simply wants us to be true to the message of eternal life. It must rule and direct our lives. It must not be employed as a tool to oppress or mislead others.
God blees you!
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