HOMILY FOR THE THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
HOMILY THEME: CHALLENGING RELIGIOUS LEADERS
BY: Fr Gerald M. Musa
Having read the strong warning of the Prophet Malachi, I thought that on this weekend, all priests and preachers should take the backseat and listen to their parishioners’ advice. The prophet was pointing to the priests the areas where they have failed and about God’s disappointment with them. Malachi rebuked the priest in these words:
You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction (2:8)
Jesus continued with the same theme of challenging the negative behaviours of the religious leaders of his time, the Pharisees and scribes. He said:
The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice (Matthew 22:3).
These words of Jesus challenge all religious leaders of today because very often our lives go contrary to our belief. The focus of the modern media is on preachers whose way of life does not match what they preach. Today it is not easy to find those who are willing to preach the word because of the challenges that go with practicing the sermon. If it is hard today to get preachers of the word it is even much harder to get witnesses of the word – those whose lives reflect the values of the Gospel.
During our ordination, the Bishop handed the bible to us saying: “believe what you read; preach what you believe and practice what you preach.” I have come to believe that none of these three injunctions: – believing, preaching and practice can be accomplished without the help of God.
There is a natural human tendency to take for granted what we are too familiar with – it is very easy for the preacher to contradict what he preaches. It is easier to give instructions than to follow instructions; it is easier to be a commander than to be a follower. Lawmakers can be the first lawbreakers if they do not take extra care. A little boy said to his father: “Do not tell me what to do, show me what you did.”
Many leaders, authorities, or parents, or teachers would like to make recommendations and give the best instruction to their followers, subjects, children and students, but would be quick to add, “Do what I say and not what I do.” A priest whose moral life is a far cry from his professed belief would say, do what I say and not what I do; a doctor who preaches abstinence from smoking but who is himself a chain smoker would advise his patients not to smoke and would add, “do what I say and not what I do.” A policeman who collaborates with criminals would advises other people to be law-abiding citizens would also say, “Do what I say and not what I do.” In recent years we have heard of scandalous news relating to priests, bishops and some religious leaders whom we have all looked up to for good examples. Such news brought different reactions from different people and there are those who left the church because they cannot stand the shame of the disappointing behaviours of their religious leaders. In my opinion, I think the unpleasant events should be a moment of deep reflection for all members of the Church. First, it reminds us about the frail human nature of religious leaders who are simply treasures in clay and who can sometimes be humiliated by their weakness.
Secondly, it is a moment to recall that the foundation of our faith should not be built on human persons or structures, but rather on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith.
Jesus is among the few leaders whose life matched what he believed and preached. He preached love and his life was a manifestation of true love; he preached forgiveness and he was compassionate and merciful to sinners; he taught his disciples how to pray and he himself was prayerful; he told those who wish to follow him to go and sell all that they had and he himself lived a life of poverty; he preached against sin and even though he faced all kinds of temptations, he did not sin; he preached about the virtue of humility and he was a model of humility; he preached about the importance of obedience to God and himself was totally obedient to the will of God even in the most difficult circumstances. This is the reason why Jesus could confidently say: “LEARN FROM ME” (Matthew 11:29); “FOLLOW ME” (Mark 2:14); “LIVE/REMAIN IN ME” (John 15:4).
The Apostle Paul followed after the footsteps of Jesus. He said to the Thessalonians: With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well. He did not just share the Gospel but also lived the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Today, the world is desperately in search of role models who apply the values of the Gospel in their everyday lives. The common Christian description of Gospel role models is “witnesses.” I will like to recall the words of Pope Paul VI who said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
We need to rise up and be counted as witnesses. A prominent religious leader said: “Give me one hundred men who love only God with all their heart and hate only sin with all their heart and we will shake the gates of hell and bring in the kingdom of God in one generation.”
We are concerned that the number of people going to church has dropped; we are worried that vocation to the priestly and religious life is no longer as it was in the past; we are not happy that the church is not as vibrant as it was. We need to pray and ask God to help us to be true witnesses whose lives will be living examples of the Gospel of Christ. If the twelve Disciples of Christ can change the world, you and I can also make a difference.
30TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR Malachi 1:14-2:2.8-10;