November 5, 2023 — Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
MAL 1: 14B-2: 2B, 8-10; PS 131: 1-3; 1 THES 2: 7B-9, 13; MT 23:1-12
In many ways being a Christian and being a good steward have everything to do with humility. Jesus is the absolute epitome of humility and today’s readings once again emphasize that fact. However, we also must recognize that it is a way of living to which He calls us as well.
Our First Reading is from the Old Testament Book of Malachi. Malachi is the last of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Bible, and it is thus the final Book of the Old Testament, placed just prior to Matthew. Scholars debate whether the author actually is someone named Malachi, as in Hebrew “Malachi” means “God’s messenger” and it may not even be a proper name. The Book of Malachi is among the shorter books in the Bible with just over 1,300 words. To put that in perspective the Book of Genesis contains more than 32,000 words.
In this passage God, through Malachi, addresses those who do not sincerely practice their faith. It is interesting to note that at one point in today’s readings, Malachi states, “You have turned aside from the way.” The “Way” with a capital “W” was what early Christians were called. It stems from Jesus’ statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Malachi points out to those to whom he was writing that turning aside from the way is an unacceptable and insincere act. Acting in this way is the opposite of humility.
St. Paul understood what it meant to be humble. For him the focus was always on the faith and on Christ, not on any personal glorification. In the Second Reading drawn from his First Letter to the Thessalonians Paul says, “We were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.” This idea of serving, of giving self, is key to living a stewardship way of life. In the Gospel, as we will see, Christ really emphasizes it. Paul makes it clear he was among the Thessalonians to give something to them, not to take something from them. Paul also stresses the love aspect of giving in this way: “…so dearly beloved you had become to us.”
Paul clearly liked and respected the Thessalonians for many reasons. He points out one particular cause that also has an obvious message for us. Paul says, “And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God.” Paul consistently taught that the Word comes from God. For Paul this Word was beyond human opinion. Paul did not have “blind faith.” He could see how effective it is with those who hear it and believe it. Paul knew that there was power in the Word of God to change lives.
The Word of God could not be more powerful than it is the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. As the Lord has been doing throughout our recent Gospel Readings, He takes to task the “scribes and the Pharisees.” Jesus points out that it is all right to “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” It is the same message that God provides through Malachi in the First Reading.
Nevertheless, it is in Jesus’ final reminder in this reading that we find the real jewel among His Word. The Lord says, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus was truly the greatest among them, but He always spoke of Himself and viewed Himself as a servant. The basic issue for us as His followers is, “Are we more like the Pharisees or more like the Lord?” We are called to imitate Him and to pursue His philosophy and style. His kingdom is different. In the Lord’s kingdom we are measured by how we serve and honor others, not by how we may be served. Do we always serve and honor others?