Giving the Glory to God
October 27. 2011
By Father Timothy P. Schehr
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time: Malachi 1:4-10; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-13; Matthew 23:1-12
Some of the Lord’s enemies have attempted to undermine His work. Jesus not only won out against them, he also left them with something to think about, inviting them to serve God more faithfully. Now Jesus turns to the crowds and His disciples. He wants them to do some thinking too.
Jesus advises them to listen to what their religious leaders say; after all they follow in the tradition of Moses as teachers of the law. He has just affirmed the two greatest commandments of that law in his response to the lawyer who tried to undermine Him. The law is a solid foundation for the disciples.
But Jesus cautions the crowd and His disciples against following the example given by their religious leaders who are not good examples of devotion to God because they allow their personal interests to interfere. One instance of this is the display they make at prayer. By tradition, some pious observers of the law wore the word of God literally on their head and on their wrists. Their inspiration for this came from a text in Deuteronomy urging the Israelites to bind the word of God on head and hands. The thrust of this directive was to impress upon them the need to allow the word of God to guide their thoughts and their actions. Binding them literally on the body was one way to remind people to do this. Such binding are called phylacteries. But Jesus says some religious leaders widen these so they can be seen by everyone and not just themselves. They also wear tassels on their prayer shawls so that everyone else can observe their devotion to prayer. The lesson is clear enough: they are more interested in impressing people than in impressing God.
Another example of misguided thinking is their preference for places of honor at meals and front seats in the synagogue. This preference reveals their need to be noticed by others when what really matters is that they get noticed by God. And being noticed by God is not dependent on where they sit.
Then there are the titles enjoyed by some religious leaders: rabbi, father, and teacher. In themselves the titles are a way to show respect for those who guide others along the journey of faith. But Jesus wants the crowd and His disciples to remember that God is their first rabbi, father and teacher. If titles get in the way, it is better to avoid them altogether.
In the concluding verse of the Gospel, Jesus offers a good summary of this lesson. People should concentrate on being recognized by God first. Grand displays will only compromise this ideal. God will reward faithful servants appropriately.
Long before the Gospels, the prophet Malachi was teaching the same lesson to his contemporaries. Like the Lord, this prophet was disappointed in the bad example of the religious leaders of his day. They were more interested in personal gain than in selfless service to God. Malachi challenged them to give the glory to God. The prophet reminds his listeners that they all have God as father. This conviction should bring people together and not tear them apart.
Paul finds service to God ideally represented in the faithful members of the church in Thessalonica. The apostle reminds them how attentive he was to their spiritual needs, caring for them as a mother would care for her infant children. He is gratified the Thessalonians appreciated his work and dedicated themselves to the word of God. It was honor enough for them to be serving the Lord God.
Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.