Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time


Deacon Blaine Barclay

November 5th, 2017

In our gospel today, when Jesus is teaching the disciples and the crowd.  He says something unusual about the scribes and Pharisees.  He says, ’do what they teach and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach’. So, here he is again, talking about hypocrisy.  Jesus just doesn’t let up on this subject, does he?  He must have thought it was important, and that we should take it to heart.  And, we recognize of course, that his teaching on these matters is addressed to the early Church and to us as much as it was the scribes and Pharisees of his day.  Jesus starts off by paying the Pharisees a complement, something he doesn’t do very often.  He recognizes that, they ‘sit in Moses chair’, namely, that their interpretation of the Torah, of the law, has authority and weight. In Jewish circles, the Rabbi or Teacher always sits down when they are going to teach something important.  The ‘chair’ in the synagogue therefore represents the authoritative place of proclamation and commentary on the law and the prophets.  In our own time we still have echoes of this when we speak of someone chairing a meeting.  So, Jesus says, ‘do what they teach and follow it’. As an aside, we would do well in our own time to listen to those who likewise, ’sit in the chair of the Apostles’, both in the teaching ’chair’ of Peter, and the ‘chair’ of our own Bishop Brendan O’Brian.  The Bishops, in union with the Pope, teach with legitimate authority.  Here is another example, on those rare occasions when the Pope makes an ‘infallible’ teaching statement, we say that he speaks ’ex cathedra’, literally, ’from his chair’. In our own Cathedral, only the Bishop of Kingston sits in that Chair, nobody else. Every Catholic knows this, but do we do everything we can to adequately inform ourselves about the authentic teaching of the Church, of its teaching Magisterium, and not just what we read in some discontents web blog?

At the heart of Jesus’ critique of hypocrisy is his own counter model of leadership. ’I have come among you as one who serves’, says the Lord.  He concretely models this ’servant leadership’ when at the last supper in John’s gospel, he wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the feet of the disciples.  Jesus’ model of leadership’ in the Church, and by extension, in our families and our workplaces, is one of availability and tenderness. By the way, another example of this is that one of the official titles for the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is ’the Servant of the Servants of God’.  Listen to how St. Paul describes his ministry to the Thessalonians in our second reading today. ’We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for own children’.  How different this is from a leadership model that seeks recognition, honour, and status.  That wants to be seen by others.  What does St Paul say in first Corinthians 13? ’Love does not insist on its own way, it is not arrogant or proud’.

Of course, there is a time and a place for official titles.  They can be, and are, a sign of respect and heartfelt recognition.  I would never have dreamed, for example, of addressing my Father as ‘Allen’, or my Mother as ‘Helen’.  To do so would have been disrespectful.  So’ is it wrong to call someone ’rabbi’, or, ’father’, or, ’instructor’, as Jesus seems to be saying? Or, is this a typical example of Jewish teaching by way of hyperbole, exaggeration in order to make a point, to emphasize its importance.

So, what is the point?  Not to be the kind of person who hides behind our social role or status, in the Church, in the family, or, in society at large.  But to live life from the heart, in radical self-emptying, self-donation.  As St. Paul continues in our second reading; ’so deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us’.  Leadership in our communities and families needs to follow the logic of Encounter.  Or, as one author, recommended by St. John Paul II puts it, an ’Ethics of the Face’.  As St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, ’Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God… emptied himself, taking the form of slave’.  In conclusion, in the words of our gospel today. ’The greatest among you will be your servant, whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted’.  Jesus really does teach an Upside Down Kingdom.  Are we ready to be turned around?