November 5, 2023: Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Matthew 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 and 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.”
In recent years, a number of authors have “translated” the Gospels into contemporary language. (The Message by Eugene Peterson; The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, Oxford University Press; Scripture Readings Featuring All Inclusive Language, Carmelites of Indianapolis).
In these works, the Sacred Scriptures remain sacred, reworded but unchanged in meaning. The intent of the rewording seems to be to surprise us, to put a new take on familiar words, to bring the words closer to our everyday lives.
This reflection intends to follow that pattern. The sacredness, the truth of the words of Jesus remains, but they are intended to shake us up a bit. The reflection attempts to convey what may happen in an ordinary listener’s head and heart when hearing the passage proclaimed.
Jesus speaks plain words to the “crowds and his followers” about those pesky, annoying scribes and Pharisees. The message is clear: Do as they say, not as they do. Their words and deeds don’t match. These men preach the ways to be good and holy, but they certainly don’t live them. Why, they wouldn’t lift a finger to help their neighbors, maybe not even their families. They talk but don’t act.
Not only that, they’re grandstanders. Look for them waving front row tickets to the Taylor Swift Eras tour. The only ones in their orbit of friends who scored them! And everyone in their orbit of friends has had the tickets waved in their faces for weeks. Enough!
Jesus then shifts his focus to how a true follower of Jesus behaves. If “they,” those hypocrites, are unmoved by the troubles of others, show offs and grandstanders, “you” need to be the opposite.
Wake up and smell the coffee. You believe God is Love Incarnate. God acts in our lives. So walk the talk. Get yourself down to the local food pantry. Go to your local library or elementary school to read to children. Write a letter to or call your congressperson, local elected officials about an issue of great importance to you and you feel should be to them – even or especially if you don’t believe it will make a difference.
Walk a mile in another’s shoes. These may seem passive actions but they are actions: Listen to podcasts about hot button international and/or national issues. Read editorials, op-ed pieces. Listen to eyewitness accounts. Make a whole-hearted effort to learn about both sides, all sides of the story. For example, scout out reliable resources that present the Palestinian perspective and the Israeli perspective on issues sparking the current violence in that part of our common home. We do know there’s little truth in he/she/they started it. It takes two to tango. (or tangle). Bottom line? Jesus gives us this message again and again in so many circumstances, situations, teachings. No matter what translation used, our lives as followers of Jesus come down to this: Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. Bit if you’re content to be yourself, your life will count for plenty. (The Message, Eugene Patterson).
Find ways to:
Do as they say, not as they do.
Lift a finger to help relieve a burden from another’s shoulders.
Wake up and smell the coffee.
Walk the talk.
Walk a mile in another’s shoes.
Be content with your life.