Sunday, Nov. 5, is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; Psalms 131:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12.
Today’s readings are directed at priests — but also every Christian, in those aspects of our lives that share in the “priesthood of Christ.”
In the Gospel, Jesus addresses the scribes and Pharisees. They are supposed to represent God to the people, but they have become more interested in representing themselves, as if they were gods.
Some of them, Jesus says, “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders.” Others draw attention to themselves; they “widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.”
“All their works are performed to be seen,” says Jesus. “They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’” St. John Chrysostom describes how this kind of preacher plays to his audience instead of to God.
“The priest is eager to please the audience,” he says. “Whatever they want, he exhibits. If the audience is lacking in enthusiasm and lazy, he also becomes more unconcerned. If the audience delights in ridicule, he becomes one who moves others to ridicule. He is predictable. Without exception, he always does everything with only his audience in mind.”
These preachers would rather be admired than tell the truth. They are like a weather reporter who refuses to upset people by admitting a hurricane is coming.
Like the priests in the first reading, they become a curse rather than a blessing.
It’s a lesson we all need to learn in the exercise of our own “priesthood.”
We need to learn it first in our families, where “each family member, in accord with their own role, exercises the baptismal priesthood and contributes toward making the family a community of grace and of prayer,” says the Compendium of the Catechism (350).
We also need to learn it outside the home, because as St. Peter points out, we are “a royal priesthood” who must “announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Paul, in the second reading, shows what this priesthood should look like.
“We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children,” he begins, in a striking image. “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”
The false preacher identifies himself as the great one, and so gives only what he has. The authentic preacher identifies himself with Jesus Christ and gives Christ’s teaching.
The false preacher changes the message to be sure the audience stays focused on him. The authentic preacher keeps the message pure to be sure that the audience stays focused on God.
The false preacher wants something from the audience. The true Christian serves. That’s the way to be a priest.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima