31st Sunday (A)

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus tells us very clearly that he has come into this world that we may have life in and though him. Again in another passage he spells out very clearly that he has come to serve and not to be served. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2, 5-6 says “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking form of servant, being born in the likeness of man in every aspect except sin.” Looking squarely He sees the mentality and the attitudes of the leaders of His day were neither authentic nor credible. He sees discrepancies that exist in their words and actions.

They did not practice what they taught (hypocrisy).
They put heavy burdens on others but not themselves (legalism).
They sought and loved public recognition (pride).
Status, respect and titles were important to them (arrogance).
They locked people out of the kingdom (judgmental).
They established laws to benefit themselves (greed).
They neglected to emphasize justice and mercy (bias).
They were accomplices to silencing the prophets (oppressive).

(1) “They do not practice what they teach” (v. 3). They lack integrity of life and fail to practice what they preach. They create a double standard — they say one thing and do another. When parents create double standards by forbidding their children to do what they have no hesitation in doing themselves, they make the same mistake.

(2) “They overburden the ordinary people” (v. 4). In metaphorical language, Jesus accused Israel’s religious authorities of imposing on the people heavy obligations that were difficult to obey. The scribes and the Pharisees, in their excessive zeal for God’s laws, split the 613 laws of the Torah into thousands of rules and regulations affecting every movement of the people, thus making the observance of God’s laws a heavy burden. By contrast, Jesus offers an easy yoke, a light burden, and rest for the soul (11:29-30).

(3) “They do all their deeds to be seen by others” (v. 5) As a prophetic peacemaker, Jesus challenges those who pervert religion into an opportunity to gain personal honor, glory and power. Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of seeking the glory that rightly belongs to God. The real goal of the Pharisees was to dress and act in such a way as to draw attention to themselves instead of glorifying God.  In their misguided zeal for religion, they sought respect and honor for themselves rather than for God. They expressed their love of honor in several ways, thereby converting Judaism into a religion of ostentation.

The chair of Moses, the place where the law of God is to be taught, is occupied by people who do not practice what they preach, and impose on others norms that they themselves do not follow. Jesus does not deny the authority with which they explain God’s will to the people, but insists that they do what they expect others to do. He points out their inconsistency, the double game they are playing. They know well what God commands, but act as if these commandments were meant only for others. They think that because they are masters of the law, they do not have to be servants of God. Jesus does not tolerate a situation where the very people who know the law best are the worst at observing it. He does not understand how the people, who can explain to others what God wants of them, can excuse themselves, thinking that God does not expect it of them.

We have to begin to practice what we want to become, and we do not have to worry about succeeding in everything. Jesus is not satisfied if his followers appear good unless they are good or at least trying to be good. His disciples must do what they know to be the will of God, without putting on a show in the hope of being seen by others. Obeying God, while at the same time looking for the esteem or admiration of others, shows a lack of respect for God. If we do not live the faith we preach, it would be better to stay silent.

We tell others what they should be, but we do not give them the chance to tell us how they would like us to be, or what they expect of us as Christians. Jesus wants his disciples always united in love and fellowship. There should be no sentiments of superiority, no seeking special honors, and no thinking ourselves better than others. We are all equal in his eyes and in his heart, the disciples of the same master and children of the one Father. What matters is not what we want to be, but how God sees us. The first thing Jesus teaches his disciples is that they are all brothers, all disciples of the same master, learning the same doctrine. It is not the charter of human rights that makes us all equal, with identical privileges and the same responsibility. Our equality as Christians is based on our common discipleship of Christ and the universal fatherhood of God.

A society, which does not learn from Jesus, cannot become truly fraternal. A world, which does not consider God as Father, will not succeed in bringing about reconciliation among people. The further we are removed from the teaching of Jesus, the less likely we are to consider others as our brothers and sisters, and the more likely we are to behave irresponsibly towards them. His teaching is gradually being overlooked in our world, and consequently we do not see our neighbors as brothers and sisters, nor do we see ourselves as children of God. Where the Father is acknowledged and loved, the children feel loved and grateful. That is the difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of any other authority, no matter how good or how legitimate it may be. Anyone who has Jesus as sole teacher and who lives only by his teaching will discover that God has many children and each one has many brothers and sisters, fellow disciples of Jesus. One good way, therefore, to make this world more human and more fraternal, is to become authentic Disciples of Christ.

It is the teaching of Jesus that in God’s house greatness is accorded to those who serve others, not to those who teach. Those who learn from Jesus and have God as their Father are people who serve their neighbor as brothers and sisters, who do not seek honors or privileges for themselves, who set about doing whatever has to be done to meet the needs of others.