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DO NOT BE LIKE THEM! Reflection for the 31st Sun, Ord Time, Yr. A.
By Fr. Modestus Mgbaramuko
Sat, 04 Nov 2017

The oracles of prophet Malachi close the books of the Greek Old Testament. From this book comes the touching theme of today which centres on the failure of the priests in their persons and functions. In the second reading, Paul and his missionary companions provide the opposite example, by giving themselves completely to the service of their community. In the Gospel, Jesus is presented by Matthew as the new Moses who is Israel’s supreme teacher and the new law-giver. The Pharisees and Scribes, apparently knowledgeable religious leaders, would not accept Jesus. Matthew highlights the abuses in their legitimate but limited authority. We have more than enough to learn from these.

In showing the high estate from which priest and people had fallen, Malachi lays the blame on the priests, reminding them that they were leaders of the people. Every high position does have a correspondingly high expectation. But if the priest needed to be ‘reminded’ of God’s sovereignty; or taught about reverence for the name of God (Mal 1:14), then the priest had become deficient in the very things about which priests should have been specialists. Shoddiness in the handling of sacred things meant that the offence of the priests rose against the most central obligation of Israel’s covenant - God’s honour. Such shoddiness, whether they be concerned with the sacrificial animals, or with the handling of things like sacred linens and vessels, remain unacceptable - yesterday and today.

The prophetic rebuke of the priests’ failures in their personal conduct and functional obligations as leaders of the people, share close similarities with Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees. The Pharisees of the NT, like the post-exilic priests of the temple, distorted the teachings of God’s law which should have been for the people, ‘a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps119:105). Consider the mind frame of the Pharisees in their reaction to Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath. God’s law had been displaced replaced with their own elaborations and applications which became burdens to God’s people; even those who suffering ill-health.

The prayer, fasting and alms-giving intended to be observed as discrete acts of devotion by all, turned into “make-shows” or ‘holiness displays’ at the hands of the Pharisees. What do we need to do today, to return our Catholic worship and devotion to their pristine purity; where they humbly implore God, and give God the glory? As priests and religious leaders, what ways shall we conduct ourselves and the liturgies we preside at, so that we do not give others this false impression that we are gods ourselves?  Have we taken notice that God should always be the one who pays us the rewards?

Since the rebuke contained in God’s word against the misconduct of all religious persons is something grave and real, our eyes should henceforth, be wide open to the grave effects they have of casting the entire faith of God’s people into crisis. Putting all these things together, reminds us that the model of leadership as selfless service, shines out in the example of St Paul and his companions who truly followed the Gospel of Christ. They preached and; they did what they preached. And, in their leadership, their love for their communities, compared to that of a mother feeding and looking after her own children (1Thess 2:7).  

All leaderships worthy of their names, are called to imbibe the discipline of the moral values encapsulated in the Gospel of Jesus. Such moral values challenge us to face the dignity of personal example, which remains the hallmark of true leadership. This saves us from the “do not be like them” of today; or “Listen to them but do not imitate their actions” (Mt 23:3).  


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