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A Warning against Hypocrisy
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in Heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, grant me humility that I may serve others in a spirit of truth and reverence.
- Pharisees: In Matthew’s Gospel, one of Jesus’ main adversaries is the Pharisees. The Pharisees made vows to spend all their lives observing the law codified by the scribes. They were knowledgeable about Jewish law and tradition, which Jesus seemed to challenge and supplant with the law of charity. They antagonized him, tested him, and even sought to destroy him. Jesus alluded to the narrow vision of the Pharisees. They were zealously attentive to the minutiae of the law, and based their hope for salvation in the fulfillment of daily laws, including ceremonial washings. These laws were meant to help people flourish, not stifle them on their path to holiness. We can become pharisaical when we impose thoughts or behaviors on others but excuse ourselves from them.
- Humility: Jesus calls us to humility. Humility recognizes the source of all goodness, holiness, and truth. He warns against calling others rabbi, father, instructor, reminding us that there is but one fount of wisdom, one fount of authority, and one fount of truth. In these verses, he seems, once again, to provoke an examination of conscience. He asks if we clearly acknowledge the Lord as the source of all life and truth. How many times in our day do we pride ourselves on being the last word, an authority on a matter, when we are but bearers, stewards, and intermediaries of what we have received from the Lord?
- The Greatest among You Will Be Your Servant: The disciples heard Jesus turn human standards upside down, calling on all of us to reconsider what it means to be great, in charge, the boss, the responsible one. Those who have authority over others are called to a great spirit of humility, aware that they are in a position of steward leadership. We look to Jesus to see how to live this out by reflecting on how he cared for others: his availability, attentive listening, wise teaching, generous feeding, and many, many healings. He is the perfect servant leader.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, thank you for your example of how to lead others with a spirit of stewardship and care. Grant me the grace to examine my conscience to recognize all of the attitudes and undercurrents that move me in my service and leadership. Make my heart more like yours.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will examine my conscience to evaluate my attitude of humble service towards others.
For Further Reflection: “What Is an Examen”—The Daily Prayer of Discernment: The Examen Prayer with Fr. Timothy Gallagher.
Jennifer Ristine is a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi dedicated to spiritual and faith formation through teaching, conferences, writing, and spiritual direction. While serving in Ancient Magdala she wrote Mary Magdalene: Insights from Ancient Magdala and “Nine Days with Mary Magdalene.”