THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
Texts: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 1 Thess 2:7b-9,13; Matt 23:1-12
By Fr. Augustine Agwulonu, OP.
Expositions and Messages from the readings:
- The first reading declares and proclaims God as the greatest of all kings. The Nations of the world revere his name. The people prostrate before him in adoration, in reverence, and in worship. However, the “priests” are engaging in false teaching thereby leading the people astray. The Lord accuses them of violating the covenant. They have broken faith and it can be said that they have also lost trust in God. They have become dangerous to the people whom God entrusted to their care. They are called to be the models, leaders, and shepherds of the people. But they have failed in these duties and roles! They have neglected and rubbished their belonging to the Aaronic covenant. The consequence is not only that God frowns at their behaviour, but the people also have become contemptuous towards the priests. The people observe the partiality and injustice, which these priests practice. These supposed leaders of the people have made a mess of their common fatherhood, their common origin, their integrity of being created by the One God. Consequently, God calls these priests back to the path of righteousness and uprightness. He calls them back to himself through the prophet Malachi. They should retrace their steps and faithfully fulfil their duties once again. They should return to God in faith and repentance.
- In the second reading, St. Paul commends the Thessalonians for their positive response to the Word he preached to them. The apostle Paul reviews his method and mode of presenting the Word to the faithful in Thessalonica. He employs the imagery of a mother nursing her baby and caring for her children. St. Paul was affectionate to them; making it attractive and desirable for them to accept and receive the Gospel he preaches to them. It is for St. Paul not only an act of transmission of the Gospel, but also a service of self-giving. The Gospel and its proclamation become effective and efficacious engagement and expression of fraternal relationship. In this way, St. Paul becomes a great model for the faithful in Thessalonica. He demonstrates leadership, and gives himself as their shepherd. In this way, the second reading acts as a link between the first reading and the Gospel. St. Paul demonstrates that it is possible and a thing of joy to be a model leader and a good shepherd of God’s flock. The result of this self-exemplary life by St. Paul is the positive response of the faithful in Thessalonica to the Gospel and to Paul himself. It is a wonderful testimony of a successful mission, to the glory of God, to the joy and salvation experience of the ministers and those they serve through the ministry of the Word. We too want to share in this testimony of faith and accomplishment of the Gospel.
- The Gospel text presents Jesus’ critical appraisal of the Scribes and the Pharisees. They tend to take advantage of their learning, knowledge, and position in order to draw attention to themselves. They have taken their duty as a means for self-elevation, self-service, and self-gratification, instead of using them to seek God’s honour as the Rabbi per excellence. It is noteworthy that the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees is orthodox. However, it is not only about content, but also about disposition. There is no doubt that they know the truth and can verbally transmit it to the people. However, according to the Lord, there is more to verbal proclamation of the truth about God’s Word. It requires demonstration by personal example of practical and dutiful self-engagement by the preacher, where they show that doing what the Word commands and demands is practicable. They should not preach water and drink wine! The goal of their learning and knowledge is not for self-display and self-gratification. But rather, it is for self-identification with God in humility and thanksgiving for calling and choosing them to teach. They are not themselves the Rabbi, but rather the servants of the One and only True Rabbi, the heavenly Father. The give is always more than the gift. Thus, God remains the giver of every good thing and his gifts must be received with the utmost respect for him, the most generous giver who gives without grudge.
Now, therefore, what an honour and what a privilege to be at the service of God and his Word! What a blessing to be a preacher of the Word! What a joy to see how the faithful accept the Gospel and live according to its demands! How beautiful and inspiring it is, when the preacher and the listener both receive the Word with faith and act upon it! The Word of God must constantly inspire the people, move them to faith, and draw them to acts of charity. When the Word is preached, we do well to listen and to hear it, believe in it, and act upon it. This is the path and pattern of the effective and efficacious encounter with the Word of truth, which our loving God communicates to his loving children. This communication is salvific. It is redemptive. And it is necessary for the wellbeing of God’s children, now and for their eschatological destiny with him.
And so, let us praise God!