Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Bad Examples

The Scriptures offer an abundance of specific instructions about what we must do to live a good life that is pleasing to God. Sometimes, however, the Bible also teaches us by showing us what not to do.

Today's first reading and Gospel present two bad examples: the corrupt Levites and the proud scribes and Pharisees. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi scolds the Levites, and in the Gospel, Jesus chastises the scribes and Pharisees. Both Malachi and Jesus point out the many flaws of these religious leaders, give them a much-needed lesson in humility, and offer them a chance to change.

The First Reading: Malachai 1:14b – 2:2b, 8-10

The Levites were the priests of the Old Testament. Their job was to teach the Law, give the people an example of holiness, and offer the prescribed sacrifices in the Temple. Apparently, they also assumed the role of judges in conflicts between the Israelites.

In this reading, God, though the prophet Malachai, lodges several complaints against the Levites:

1. they have turned aside from the way of holiness;
 2. they have caused others to falter and grow weak through bad advice or lack of proper instruction;
 3. they are not keeping their side of the covenant (i.e, they are not giving themselves to God in loving service); and
 4. they show partiality in their decisions (and perhaps take bribes?).

The Levites had already been punished for their misdeeds. The people who were supposed to look up to them as examples of holiness now look down on them with contempt and derision.

These wayward Levites will be subject to further chastisement if they do not turn away from their wickedness. “I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse,” God threatens through Malachai. Remember, though, that when God punishes, He does so to lead stubborn hearts and minds to repentance and conversion.

What must the Levites do, then, if they are to follow God's will? They must listen to God, take His words to heart, give glory to His name, change their ways, behave as children of the one God, remember that they are brothers of the people they are to serve, keep the covenant, be faithful to each other, and practice humility.

The Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

The scribes and Pharisees were the teachers of the Law in Jesus' time. They were supposed to be compassionate and loving leaders who taught by word and holy example.

In the Gospel, Jesus lodges numerous complaints against the scribes and Pharisees:

1. they do not practice what they preach;
 2. they place burdens on the people, but they do not help them carry those burdens (i.e., they create an excess of rules regulations, but they do not help the people fulfill them);
 3. they are proud; and
 4. they do good works only to be recognized and approved by others.

What will to happen to the scribes and Pharisees if they refuse to change their ways? Jesus warns, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

What, then, must the scribes and Pharisees do to please God? They must discover humility, remember that God is their Teacher, Father, and Master, become servants to others, and live in unity with their brothers and sisters.

If the Levites, scribes, and Pharisees had only listened to the Word of God and changed their ways (and perhaps some of them did), these bad examples who show us how not to live might have become our fellow travelers along the path to God.

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