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Thirty-first Sunday – Year A – Ordinary Time
Readings: Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12.
Reading 1: Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10:
A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers?
Reading 2: 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13:
Brothers and sisters:
We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
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.
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.
Gospel: Mt 23:1-12:
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“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.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
I. THEME: The necessary virtues of a leader
In our life, there are times we are members, there are times we are leaders in our family, community, company, country or the Church. Today readings help us not only to wisely select a good leader, but also to prepare us to fulfill duties of a leader when people put their trust in us. Two of the most important virtues of a leader are:
(1) To know what to do in that position: If a leader doesn’t know what to do, how could he lead people? Jesus himself warned people: “”Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”
(2) A leader is required to have not only talents but also virtues because “if a leader is bad, his people will be disordered.” A lack of virtues leader is easy to become an arrogant dictator and to cause his people to suffer.
The second deading gives us some sure signs of a good and virtuous leader. The first reading and the Gospel pointed out the signs of a bad and blind leader and their results.
1/ Reading I: The priests did not fulfill their duties.
(1) They did not teach people to properly behave: The most important duties of a priest are to teach people to fear God and to keep His law. For example, the law teaches that when people offer their sacrifices to God, they must offer perfect animals. Due to people’s regretting the loss of their possession or the priests’ greed, they offered sick animals or the surplus. Their actions expressed their contempt to God, and thus the prophet Malachi scolded at them: “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.”
God does not consume what they offered, but He recognized their reverence for Him in their heart through their offerings. The most danger could happen when they had this habit is they will have a attitude “by living so closed to god, they treat him like one of theirs.” They will no longer revere God and keep what He taught them. Thus, priests must correct people of their contempt acts in worship before they become habits. If they don’t, the result will be grave as Malachi announced God’s oracle: “If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.”
(2) They are blind: In order to lead people wisely, a leader must know or set the goals which he and his people aim to achieve; if he doesn’t know them, how could he lead people to achieve these goals? At the time of the prophet Malachi, leaders were severely in crisis, and people were suffered due to their blindness, as he said: “But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”
(3) They set bad examples: People look up to their leaders and imitate what they did; if
people see the priests who didn’t respect God in worship, they will also act like that since they think it is right thing to do so. The same thing could happen in the keeping of God’s law; if a priest followed exactly what the law described for all people and in all cases, people would not be confused and felt unjust; but if he always finds a reason to be dispensed from the law, people will also have a reason to do as such.
2/ Readings II: St. Paul set good examples for his people.
There are five important things we could learn from him to be a good leader.
(1) Love: The first and important virtue of a leader is to love God and people; if a leader doesn’t have this virtue, he will only search profits for himself and his family. The love for God is the only reason that motivated St. Paul to eagerly proclaim the Good News; this love also leads him to love people. He said to the Thessalonians that: “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
(2) Sacrifice: Due to the love for his people, the leader can sacrifice his time, efforts, and even life to serve them. St. Paul, though he had a right to demand the Thessalonians to treat him as Christ’s apostle; but he did not do so. Instead, he worked to support himself, not to become a burden for his people, and he sacrificed his life for the good of their souls.
(3) Setting good examples: Not only to avoid to be a burden for people, he set many good examples so that they will also be willing to sacrifice for others. People are easily to be attracted and imitated by heroic acts; therefore, St. Paul wanted to draw out these motivations from his people by reminding them: “For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God.”
(4) Wisdom: St. Paul clearly knew wisdom and strength are come from God through the Good News. Therefore, he paid attention to the preaching of the Good News, not to human wisdom. He knew the Gospel has power and strength to transform people, as he said: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
(5) Humility: St. Paul humbly recognized his position. The understanding and conversion of his audiences are from God’s power working in them. He was only God’s instrument to proclaim the Good News. He believed that even his preaching of the Good News is also God’s gift bestowed on him. A religious leader will not lead people to himself but to God.
3/ Gospel: Some Pharisees and scribes are hypocrite leaders.
Jesus pointed out bad examples of some leaders at his time, typically the Pharisees and the scribes as followed:
(1) They did not pay attention to teaching people: The most important duty of the Pharisees and the scribes is to teach people to know and to practice God’s law. Because of their greed, they did not fulfill this duty, and worse than that, they deceived people by establishing more laws or explaining the law according to their viewpoints.
(2) They used people for their own profit: Instead of sacrificing their own and lessening people’s burden, they selfishly searched for their own good as Jesus said of them: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” They also used their explanation of the law to take away other’s possessions.
(3) They set bad examples: They taught people to do good things but they did not practice what they preached; and when they do good things, they wanted all people to see their good acts. Jesus carefully explained their ways of life: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” Jesus wanted people to know even they did not practice what they preached, their preachings were still good because they are words which come from God, not from them. God’s words have power to change and to transform people who are willing to listen and to practice them. Jesus’ warning is also for those who did not want to hear even their preachings.
Their hypocrite acts were displayed by “mak(ing) their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” to let people to see their respect for the law.
(4) They were so proud of themselves: By self-proclaiming of their importance, “they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.”
(5) They are blind: They themselves did not know the purpose of life and of the law, how could they lead God’s people? Under such leaders, people had to suffer because they did not know how to approach God and to cultivate a true relationship with Him. Thus, Jesus warned his disciples: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.
And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.”
Many people based on this verse and naively proclaimed “I will not call anyone “my father or teacher” and I will not trust anyone as “my master.”” This is not a correct understanding of Jesus’ intention because Jesus, though he himself is God, chose to call Joseph and Mary, his father and mother. The main point Jesus wanted to convey in this sentence is that only God is the perfect Father we should call Him because of the ways He loves and cares for us. Only Christ is the true teacher and master because he teaches us all the truth and leads us to God. We should be very careful when we put our complete trust in people because they will fall short of our expectation.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– A wise leader must know the goals and the ways to achieve these goals. Depending on special areas, such as politic, economy, education or religion, a leader must have a broad knowledge in his field before he can instruct others.
– A leader must set good examples by his actions. Successful leadership requires not only knowledge but also good examples through practicing what he preached.
– Above all, a religious leader points out the way for people to come to God, not to himself.