31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi (1:14; 2:2, 8-10)

Malachi is a pseudonym meaning “My Messenger.”  The author probably wished to conceal his (or her) identity because his attacks on the priests and ruling classes were very sharp.  Malachi arrived on the scene after the excitement of the return from exile had worn off.  Morals were suffering.  People were reneging on their tithes, intermarrying (and losing their cultural and religious identity), and oppressing the widow, the orphans and the foreigner  (US Catholic, K Guentert, p. 22).

Prophets know all about passion!  Malachi feels so strongly about his faith and about impartiality for all people that his language is piercing.  How do you show your passion in your faith?

St. Benedict said to, “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.”  And Malachi says something similar when he compares listening to laying it to heart.  It hints to the idea that listening to someone should involve our whole self in attention.  Some questions to test your ability to listen:  Do you try to ignore the distractions about you?  Do you smile, nod your head, and otherwise encourage the other to speak?  Do you listen even though you anticipate what s/he is going to say?  Do you withhold judgment of the person?  (Think about how listening is part of being a good leader when we move on to the Gospel.)

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (2:7-9, 13)

We see Paul here as an ideal authority figure and leader. We often do not think of Paul as humble, yet, an honest look at how he lived his life seems to give us a real-life example of what Jesus meant by being a humble servant. From this letter we see that Paul certainly had ‘turned his life’ over to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable – to risk everything. He ministered by entering into a personal relationship with those he wanted to share this good news. He knew the people by name. He worked alongside them, not wanting to be a burden in any way. He shared their joys and sorrows; their problems were his problems. Then, from within this close friendship, he preached, taught, corrected, and guided them. He challenged them to live as he did, in union with Jesus. He would encourage and praise those he brought to Christ. He believed in their goodness and in the power of God’s grace to transform them. In the middle of the two ‘critical’ readings, the church gives us Paul as a real-life example as to how we are all called to live ‘the priesthood of Jesus Christ’ that began with our baptism. (Celebration, October, 2005)

Paul is talking about being transformed by the Good News of God:  hearing it, believing it and then living it.  In Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium”, he said, “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst  of difficulties.  Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus…we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel,” (#167).  How profound if we truly lived that way!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (23:1-12)

Jesus speaks of good leadership.  To lead like Jesus, one must be servant, steward and shepherd.  “Jesus leaders” build community and fellowship.  They foster contentment and generosity in themselves and in others.  They build trust and increase the flow of trust all around them.  They are inspired to increase their capacity and to make greater contributions to the common good.  And they inspire others to do the same.  Service, contribution, and purpose become the hallmarks of both their individual and collective lives.  It is a new way to live.  It is always a struggle.  And the struggle is lifelong, (O. Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 63).

What does it mean to you to be humble? The word was used in the spiritual sense to mean lowly like a servant. It was not a quality thought highly of by most Greeks. They saw it as ‘self-belittling,’ and thus it was abhorrent.  But the Jewish tradition of which Jesus certainly approved took a different look at it. To be humble was to put oneself in a ‘right relationship’ with God who is the one who deserves our ‘bowing’ and our service. God would and could often use the ‘lowly’ to accomplish good. What became important – and we see this especially portrayed in Jesus – is that the one who is humble lives and acts obediently under God’s purpose. (The word, obedient, means to listen with one’s whole heart and mind.) God humbles us to put us in a right relationship with God and others – but then when we ‘repent’ or live this way of humble service, God raises us up. God exalts the humble.  (Theo. Dictionary of the New Testament, 1152-1154).

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Cycle A:

Most scholars today believe that the harshness of this attack against the scribes and Pharisees is probably best attributed to the Matthean church.  Matthew’s lengthy indictment was most likely based on a short statement made by Jesus during his ministry.  Luke’s gospel has the same section, but only four woes (Luke 11: 37-52).  The style of this text is very common in ancient Greek philosophical and Jewish literature.  Dialogue and arguments between opposing sides of an issue were customarily caustic and insulting.  Matthew was certainly not promoting anti-Jewish sentiments.  The language is prophetic in its anger and intensity.  It is meant to challenge all of us for we, too, are capable of hypocrisy (560-561).

A poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You hung my first painting on the refrigerator
And I wanted to paint another.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You fed a stray cat
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You baked a birthday cake just for me
And I knew that little things were special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You said a prayer
And I believed there was a God that I could always talk to.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You kissed me good-night
And I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
I saw tears come from your eyes
And I learned that sometimes things hurt –
But that it’s alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You smiled
And it made me want to look that pretty too.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You cared
And I wanted to be everything I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking – I looked…
And wanted to say thanks
For all those things you did
When you thought I wasn’t looking.


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