Sunday, October 26, 2014

Homily - 33rd Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

33rd Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Proverbs 13:10-13, 19-20, 30-31          Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6        Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:14-30


Once upon a time there were two teenagers who were the ninth and tenth person on Mollie Whopi’s basketball team. They were on the team because Mollie had asked them but they were content to be bench warmers. In fact, they loved to sit on the bench and make fun of those who were playing. They didn’t practice very hard because they knew they’d get into the game only at the last minute when the game was already won or lost. Since it was Mollie’s team they almost always won. Well, one day three of the regular players were out sick and two more fouled out, one of whom was Mollie herself. The referees were simply not fair. So Mollie she had to send in these two kids at the end of the bench. They didn’t try very hard. Of course the team lost. So they’re like well, it’s not our fault because we’re not very good. And Mollie went on to say to them if you’d have played up to your real ability, we would have won.
Now, we all are in God's team and we all have to play the game of life to the best of our ability in order to succeed. Again, each one of us has been bestowed upon multiple gifts and blessings by God. Naturally, He expects us to utilize these blessings for His kingdom and for His people and also to develop the talents and abilities He has given us. He wants us to be diligent and watchful for the coming of the Lord who will take into account of all that we have done.

Today is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is the second to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year A. Coming Sunday we will be celebrating the feast of 'Christ the King.' As the Liturgical Year is about to reach its completion, the Scripture Readings of today fittingly draw our attention on the 'last things'. They encourage us to prepare worthily for the 'Day of the Lord', which could be a day of wrath or a day of grace for anyone – depending on one’s personal response to God’s saving love. The First Reading from the Book of Proverbs, suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious as a loyal and faithful wife. A perfect wife, it says, “is far beyond the price of pearls.” She is hardworking, mainly for her family, but she also “reaches out her hand to the poor extends her arms to the needy.” Her value is not in her charm or her beauty but in her wisdom, that is, in her awareness of where the real priorities in life lie. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul reminds the Christians at Thessalonica of the unexpected but certain coming of the day of the Lord. He says that, that day will strike like a sudden disaster on people’s lives. It will come unexpectedly, “like a thief in the night.” He exhorts the Thessalonians to stay awake and sober. They must be personally involved and absolutely ready for 'the Day of the Lord'. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, we hear 'The Parable of the Talents.' It depicts the creative genius of God’s faithful servants as well as the disappointing cowardice of the feckless. The faithful servants were industrious and resourceful – like the worthy wife of the Book of Proverbs. The parable focuses more sharply on the Christian attitude towards earthly life as we live in expectation of the Master’s return. The implicit responsibility of each servant is to work and to multiply the talents entrusted to him. It is not enough just to preserve what one has been given. The Master expects the results from the person who has been given special talents.

The First Reading from the Book of Proverbs speaks eloquently of the qualities of a worthy wife and while the text applies literally to “the woman who fears the Lord”, there is also a valid application to the qualities of each person who lives in expectation of the Lord. The passage emphasizes the industriousness and diligence of the good wife who is busy with useful matters, skilled at her work and cares for the poor and the needy. The exemplary wife is a model of energetic faithfulness and creative response to divine initiative. The heart of our reading is that this woman, who had been caught up in a covenant relationship with her people’s God, had generously responded to His love by giving herself in the best way she knew how. Her works said something about her inner life. Indeed, the fruitfulness of her good deeds gives us a glimpse of the beauty of her soul and the integrity of her personal relationship with God. As an example of wise stewardship of one’s God-given gifts, the reading is a perfect match to the gospel parable. This Scripture passage has been used at funeral services for noble and admirable women who blessed their family and circle of friends in selflessness, gentleness, and compassion.

In today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul continues his discussion on 'the Day of the Lord', the Second Coming of Christ. He tells them what Jesus himself had said that his Second Coming would be unexpected and would come like the thief in the night. However, this should not frighten them since they would be prepared because they were living in their Christian faith. He tells them that since they are children of the light and children of the day, they should not worry about when the Lord shall return. It is sufficient for them to know that when the Lord does suddenly come “like a thief in the night”, either through His Second and final Coming on Judgment Day or when all Christians are individually called to appear before him at death, whichever comes first, they will be ready. People who nurture a false sense of security will be overtaken by surprise. Those who measure up to their Christian calling are always ready. They live their lives in constant daylight. No nighttime thief will bother them. The Second Coming of Christ will be a joyful event because they will be ready to receive him. St. Paul ends this passage with the advice, “Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober”. Such alertness would allow them to prepare for the Second Coming and to rejoice in it.

Today's Gospel passage, 'The Parable of the Talents', is the middle one of three parables on the coming judgment that Matthew has linked together at the conclusion of his Eschatological Discourse. The first parable is that of the ten virgins; five foolish and five wise waiting for the bridegroom. The third is the familiar parable of the sheep and the goats; the judgment at the end of time 'when the Son of man comes in his glory'. Jesus gives his disciples and the Pharisees this parable to illustrate and emphasize the teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven and how everyone will be judged according the use he makes of the gifts God gives to human persons.
This parable is preserved in three forms: St. Matthew's version, St. Luke's (Luke 19:12ff.), and the version in the later non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews. St. Matthew's is probably nearest to the original, though St. Luke's may contain some less-developed features than St. Matthew's, together with some elaborations and additions of his own. The original context may have been the crisis produced by the ministry of Jesus rather than the future parousia. The parable may have been part of Jesus' denunciation of the scribes, who had 'buried' the Law under the mass of their traditions and regulations.
Again, like last Sunday's parable of the ten virgins, Jesus' original parable of the talents has undergone a process of allegorization and has been given a strong eschatological orientation in the process of oral transmission and incorporation into St. Matthew’s written gospel. The owner has become a figure for Christ, away for a time on a (heavenly) journey, until he returns (at the parousia) to settle accounts with his servants (early Christian believers). The settling of accounts has become an image of final judgment, and the servants' rewards and punishments are meant to remind St. Matthew's audience of the importance of using their gifts wisely and well. So, while we look forward to the Lord's Second Coming, as Judge and King of the universe, we are advised to make responsible use of the gifts, the time, and opportunities for service given to us.
In the parable we hear about "a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one - to each according to his ability". He treated them as responsible persons and did not dictate to them how to use these talents. He trusted them as individuals and respected their freedom and initiative.
The master then departs and immediately the first two servants go off at once and trade with their talents. The third servant, on the other hand, digs a hole in the ground and buries his one talent. Why does he do that? Because he is afraid he is going to lose it if he trades with it. He must have reasoned like this: 'Well, those with more talents can afford to take a risk. If they lost a talent, they could make it up later. But me, I have only one talent. If I lose it, end of story! So I better play it safe and just take care of it.' He chooses the most cautious and least risky course of action available to him. Many of us in the church are like this third servant. Because we do not see ourselves as possessing outstanding gifts and talents, we conclude that there is nothing that we can do and bury them under the ground.
The surprise in the story comes when the master returns and demands an account from the servants. We discover that even though the first servant with five talents had made five more talents and the second servant with two talents had made two more talents, both of them receive exactly the same compliments: Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.” No comparison is made despite the fact that one earned five and the other only two. They are rewarded not in proportion to how many talents each has made, but in proportion to how many talents each of them started off with. In the Kingdom of Heaven we are not all measured by the same rule. It is not the talent given to each that matters but the way they have made us of those talents. So, what can we say about the third servant who decided to hide his talent? Obviously, he might have compared himself to the other servants with more talents, saw himself at the bottom rung of the ladder, and became discouraged. He did not realize that with his one talent, if he made just one more talent, he would be rewarded equally as the servant with five talents who made five more. Instead, he is filled with dread and fear at the thought of losing the talent that he has been given and returns it to the master. He had shown no creativity and in the master's view he had acted irresponsibly. He tries to give all possible excuses to his master saying that he knew how hard and demanding the master was and therefore out of fear he did not risk investing his money in case he should lose it. The master becomes very angry. He severely condemns him as being both wicked and lazy. As a result he loses everything and ends up being cast out into the darkness outside.
Finally, the parable ends with Jesus saying: “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” It seems rather surprising and unfair, like robbing the poor to pay the rich. But Jesus is rather saying that those who share generously the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves constantly enriched.

As we approach the end of the Liturgical Year, the Gospel Reading today reminds us of 'the end-time', the Second Coming of Christ and the final Judgment. It is in this context that it spells out the necessity of being prepared for whenever the end of time catches up with us. 'The Parable of the Talents' which we hear today is often read as an exhortation for us to use our talents. The settling of accounts upon the master's return is the core of the message of the parable. It teaches us to boldly prefer taking active risk in our lives over passive complacency. Being safe and comfortable is not high in the Lord's priority of values. The obvious conclusion from today's parable is also oft-repeated. We are responsible for the talents that we have received from God. Some of us have more talents than others, and there is no one, absolutely no one, who can say they have been gifted with nothing; but just the same, we have to do an accounting before God. The usual measure is that much more will be expected of them who have been given more. The choice for us is clear: We either make good use of what God has entrusted to us or not. If we do, then we become like the first two rewarded servants whom the master praised and said, “Come, share your master's joy”. If we do not, then what the master said of the third servant will also be said of us, “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
During this Mass then, let us ask ourselves how we are using our particular gifts and talents in a creative way in the service of our Christian community and the wider society to advance the interest of God's Kingdom. Essentially this means the works of love, as the scene of the final judgment upon Christ's return makes it clear. Let us be prepared for 'the Day of Judgment' when Christ the Lord takes account of the talents we have been so generously blessed with, and eagerly look forward to hear him say to us, “Come, share your master's joy.” And this is the Good News of today.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Homily - 32nd Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

32nd Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16        Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18        Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:1-13


There is an old story of a jester who sometimes made very wise utterances. One day, the jester had said something so foolish that the king, handing him a staff, said to him, “Take this, and keep it till you find a bigger fool than yourself.” Some years later, the king was very ill, and lay on his deathbed. His courtiers were called; his family and his servants also stood round his bedside. The king, addressing them, said, “I am about to leave you. I am going on a very long journey, and I shall not return again to this place: so I have called you all to say 'Goodbye'.” Then his jester stepped forward and, addressing the king, said, “Your Majesty, may I ask a question? When you journeyed abroad visiting your people, staying with your nobles, or paying diplomatic visits to other courts, your heralds and servants always went before you, making preparations for you. May I ask what preparations your Majesty has made for this long journey that he is about to take?” “Alas!” replied the king, “I have made no preparations.” “Then,” said the jester, “take this staff with you, for now I have found a bigger fool than myself.”
'The parable of the Ten Virgins,' which we hear today in the Gospel Reading also speaks about the need of being prepared in our life for coming future event. Of the ten, five were considered foolish, because they were not prepared for the bridegroom's coming; while the other five were considered wise, because they were prepared. What about us? Are we vigilant and prepared for the Lord's coming whenever he comes? Today's parable warns us - “Therefore, stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.”

Today is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time and we have come closer to the end of our Liturgical Year. Over the next 3 Sundays, the readings will focus our attention on the 'End Time' marked by the 'Second Coming of Christ.' This Sunday the Scripture Readings in different forms remind us of eternal life after this earthly life and underline the importance of remaining vigilant and being prepared to meet the Lord at all times. The Book of Wisdom, in the First Reading affirms the immortality of the soul and promises the gift of the Divine personification of Wisdom to all who seek her. The stress is on the desire of those who want to live wisely; wisdom will be granted to those who search for God's meaning and purpose in life. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, we hear about 'The Parable of Ten Virgins,' where the Evangelist changes the emphasis on the theme of eternal life to stress the necessity of being awake and prepared for the Lord’s coming and the definitive establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells of a division between those who prepare themselves for the patient wait for the proverbial spouse and those who do not. He speaks of a lost opportunity as those who should have been ready are shut out. In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul reminds the Christians at Thessalonica of the true meaning of death for the Christian. The sleep of death is converted into a risen life and all Christians, both living and those who have already died, 'shall always be with the Lord.' It is the Second Coming of Christ that is to comfort and strengthen Christians here on earth and they are urged to remain in readiness for it.

Wisdom is greatly prized by the traditions of the world; it is a knowledge that helps us understand the things that really matter and enables us to anticipate the unforeseen and to be prepared. It is the perfection of prudence. The Book of Wisdom belongs to a set of Old Testament writings that give expression to a spirituality nourished by an outlook that comes from living one’s life in harmony with the ways of God. In the First Reading from the the Book of Wisdom, Wisdom is personified and presented as an alluring woman because of her Divine origin, unfading, caring and waiting for the one who searches for her. It is in fact a literal personification of the attribute of God, as sought by us and seeking for us. The Divine Wisdom is never denied to all those who are worthy and are honest in their quest. Moreover, Wisdom actively searches for those who yearn and keep vigil for her - for those who, in loving response, are worthy of her. The stress is on the desire of those who want to live wisely; wisdom will be granted to those who search for God's meaning and purpose in life.
The fundamental problem with human beings is not that they lack knowledge. The problem is that a great many people simply don’t want to know. Many people have given up the search for truth and the pursuit of wisdom, because they know what they want, and what they want just might conflict with the truth, so they do not seek to discover whether what they want is truly good and in accordance with God’s will. In short, they don’t care. There’s an old adage, 'There are none so blind as those who will not see,' that is, those who choose not to see for fear of what they might discover.

Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul's 1st Letter to the Thessalonians is a Pauline masterpiece. Animated with divine wisdom, St. Paul assures the Thessalonians, distressed about the destiny of their loved ones who died before the Lord’s 'Parousia' or final coming. Would they miss the 'Parousia'? Would they be omitted from that ultimate salvation? For, the expectation common among early Christians was that the Risen Jesus was to return to them very, very soon so as to take them out of their harsh world and put them in God’s kingdom.
St. Paul's response is that they need not fear that their beloved dead would miss the glorious deliverance. Indeed, that we shall be united with the Lord always should be a deep consolation for us all. Actually, St. Paul is trying to instill hope into the Christians of Thessalonica. His message, in brief, is that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the proof and the guarantee of our own resurrection, and that God will take to himself those who have died with Christ. We died with Christ in baptism; we shall also share his resurrection. The confusion in the minds of the Thessalonians provides Paul with an occasion for describing what will happen at the end of time. His imagination tried to paint a visual image of what this transition from earthly life to heavenly life would look like, but his point is clear. His essential teaching is that all, whether already dead or still living when Christ comes, will be taken up with Christ into glory. Moreover, He has also made known that Jesus will come again at the end time as our Judge. Not knowing the day nor the hour when this will take place, we are asked to be constantly vigilant, to be always prepared for Christ's final coming.

Today's Gospel text is the first of three eschatological parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, which we will hear on these final three Sundays of this Liturgical Year. They are situated in the context of St. Matthew’s discourse on the end times and the second coming of Christ, in Chapter 25. They are each famous for their ways of focusing our attention on how to live life in this world while preparing for life in the next world, in God’s kingdom. In fact, they are not about giving up earthly life, but rather, about how to engage this life ever more fully, responsibly, and thoughtfully!
'The parable of the ten virgins' at a wedding which we hear in the Gospel Reading of today is a homely tale climaxing in the crunch line, “Therefore, stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.” Jesus tells this parable to impress his followers of the supreme need of vigilance and watchfulness. The parable shows that some of his followers, who have been chosen to play a special role in the nuptials of Christ with his Church, will forfeit their place at the eternal nuptials in heaven through their carelessness and not positive malice. The image Jesus gave of marriage regarding the Kingdom of Heaven was easily understood by his hearers. The reference here is primarily to the Second Coming of Christ as he comes in glory to judge all mankind. On that day his kingdom will be completed and the eternal triumphal Kingdom of Heaven will begin. In this story Jesus illustrates what will happen on that day to some of those whom he had chosen and to whom he had given every facility to reach their one and only goal.
Again, today's parable is found only in the Gospel of Matthew and it is partially an allegory told in the context of the culture and custom of a Jewish wedding of the time, which is different from ours. In this parable, Matthew is telling the Christian community that the return of the Lord may be delayed beyond their expectation and that they should, therefore, prepare for the long wait by providing enough oil for their lamps. Many details of the parable make good sense when seen against the framework of this principal theme. The bridegroom is Christ, the Lord. The bride is the Church. The ten virgins represent the totality of the members of the Church, as they await the Lord's coming. On the basis of what happens later on, five are described as wise or sensible and five as foolish. Their wisdom here consists in their taking prudent steps to do what they need to do in order to come face to face with their Lord. The lamps, which all the virgins had, could represent faith which all Christians have. The oil, which some of them had and others did not, would then represent good works. A lamp without oil is like faith without good works - dead and useless.
Now, as we approach the end of the Liturgical Year, the Church, through the gospel, invites us to contemplate the end – the end of our lives and the end of the world. The conclusion to be drawn from today's gospel parable is this: the time of the arrival of our Lord as judge of the universe, the day on which the eternal wedding feast of Christ with his elect will begin, is as uncertain as the arrival of the bridegroom. A follower of Christ cannot afford to be casual and unprepared for that moment. The situation can be compared to a student who studies his lessons regularly. When a surprise test is given, he is ready and passes it. He is like the wise virgins. On the other hand, the student who studies only when there is an announced test is like the foolish virgins. When a surprise test is given, he is not prepared and thus fails. Finally, when the final examination comes and having no regular study habits, he crams and, more often than not, fails the course. We are asked therefore to be like the wise virgins: to be always vigilant, to be always prepared. “Therefore, stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.”
Again, the way to prepare for the end is neither to live in fear and anxiety, or to go after prophets and visionaries that claim to have access to God’s secret calendar of how and when the world will end, nor it is a question of taking a gamble on making a last-minute confession on our deathbed. A surprising number of people do not die in their beds. It is a question rather of what I plan to do this very day and every day. There is absolutely no better way to prepare for the final call than, first, to put it completely out of one's head, and, second, to learn to spend each and every day in the company of Jesus.
A story is told of an old and holy monk who was sweeping up the fallen leaves in the monastery grounds. A visitor saw him and asked, "What would you do, brother, if you knew that you were to die in ten minutes?" The old monk said, "I'd carry on sweeping." Because the monk has always been vigilant, he is ready to meet His Judge anytime. We are asked to do the same so that when we stand before Jesus as our judge, He will to say to us, "Come, enter into my Kingdom."
Finally, in an emergency there are some things we can borrow from others at short notice. But we can also say in the context of today's parable that the 'oil' of loving service is not strictly speaking transferable to others. Our preparedness to meet the Lord is something that is ultimately only our responsibility. No one can say 'Yes' to Christ on my behalf. So, while the foolish virgins went off to make up for lost and wasted time, those who were ready went into the wedding hall. Then the door was locked. All are invited, but not all get inside. All are called but few are among the chosen ones. This is not due to any partiality on the bridegroom's part but because of the tardiness of some in responding to the invitation. The locked door means that access to Jesus is not automatic or to be altogether taken for granted. And that is precisely the warning in today's parable - “Therefore, stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.” And this is the Good News of today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Homily - 31st Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

31st Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b,8-10 Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:2b-9,13 Gospel Reading: Matthew 23:1-12


There is a story told of a troubled mother who came to Mahatma Gandhi along with her little daughter, and explained to him that her daughter was in the bad habit of eating far more sweet food than was good for her. “Please sir,” she asked, “would you kindly speak to the girl and persuade her to give up this harmful habit?” Mahatma Gandhi sat for a while in silence and then said, “Bring your daughter back in three weeks' time, and then I will speak to her.” The mother went away as she was told and then came back with her little daughter after three weeks. This time Mahatma Gandhi quietly took the little girl aside and in a few simple words pointed out to her the harmful effects of indulging in sweet food; he then urged her to abandon the habit, and the girl nodded smilingly. Thanking Mahatma Gandhi for giving her daughter such good advice, the mother then said to him in a puzzled voice, “Gandhi-ji I have yet a small question. Still, I would like to know, why you did not just say these words to my daughter three weeks ago when I first brought her to you.” Mahatma Gandhi looked ashamed, and in a low voice explained in reply, “As a matter of fact, three weeks ago I myself was still addicted to eating sweet foods.”
It is rightly said, 'Example is not the main thing in influencing others - it is the only thing.' People will not attend to what we say, but examine into what we do; and will say, 'Do you first obey your own words, and then exhort others?' In today's Gospel passage, Jesus criticizes the scribe and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Are we also pretenders? Or, do we wear masks so as to hide our real self from others?

Today is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time and we are coming very near the end of the Liturgical Year. We are also coming to the end of Matthew's Gospel where there is a growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his people. But there is no conflict with the ordinary people who are delighted and amazed at the words and actions of Jesus. The Scripture Readings of today contain serious attacks on the religious leadership of the time and they tell us of God’s rejection of inauthentic religious attitudes.
In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi, the Prophet Malachi speaks God’s word to the Israelite priests after their return from exile. He criticizes them for the injustice and unfairness of their decisions concerning others. The Gospel Reading from St. Matthew is an even clearer indictment of the Pharisees, popularly regarded as models of religious holiness. Jesus criticizes them for their lack of personal coherence, preaching to others what they themselves would not do. He also condemns their vanity, searching for public praise and honor instead of offering genuine worship due only to God. Jesus then reminds the crowd that it is the Father in Heaven who is to receive all honor. The mark of the genuine Christian is humble and sincere service. In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica that it was in an attitude of humble service, that he and his companions taught the Gospel to them, just like a mother caring for her children. He also thanks God that they recognized in his preaching not a human message, but the word of God Himself.
The Prophet Malachi is one of the minor prophets who preached after the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon and after the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem (517 BC). There was a sort of reactionary renewal in effect in the Judaism at that time. The Prophet was terribly disappointed in the behaviors of the Temple priests in how they cheapened and trivialized the sacrificial system.
Today's First Reading is an indictment against the abuse of religious authority for self-gain. The priests were offering 'polluted' sacrifices of sick and worthless animals and have failed to honor the integrity of the Lord’s name. The Prophet Malachi tells them how they have fallen from the grace of the Lord God and have brought the religion to disrepute. But their core offense consisted of that they have turned away from the right path and by their teaching have led many to do wrong. Indeed, they have broken the covenant with God by their wicked ways. Moreover, they have been also currying favor with the rich and powerful and by their irresponsible decisions, they have made a travesty of justice. The prophet tells those sinful priests that God offers them an opportunity to repent and change their ways. If they will not, God threatens to send the curse upon them that is the opposite of blessing a worthy priest deserves to receive. In fact, God had already taken away the blessings of some. He was now going to make them become the scorn of other nations, abasing them before all.

In today's Gospel Reading from St. Matthew we are given the first part of a very harsh polemic which Jesus delivered against the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus' language shocks people. Is this the gentle Jesus who commands us to love our enemies? And what is just as bad, these passages have been used down the ages as a source of anti-Semitic attacks which refer to the hypocrisy of Pharisees.
The Scribes and the Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time, occupying the seat of Moses and Jesus never questioned their authority to teach and preach. But he charged them for their hypocrisy and their pride, for they did not have integrity of life – their life lacked humility, honesty and service, and they failed to practice what they preached. Jesus attacks this pharisaic mentality in three areas:
First. Jesus says the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees should be followed because they are simply handing on the truths of their faith. But their behavior is a different matter altogether. They create a double standard - they say one thing and do another. Therefore, he urges his followers to follow their teaching, but not to follow their example. On the one hand, the Scribes imposed heavy burdens on people's shoulders but were not willing to lift a finger to remove or lessen them. In fact, over the years more were added to these already unbearable rules.
Second. Jesus makes a strong observation about the way they dressed to make themselves noticed by others and respected as religious persons. In other words, Jesus criticizes their vanity and hypocrisy. He says they wear all holy costumes, headbands and tassels in front of their eyes containing inscriptions from the Scripture. The reason why they did is because in the Scripture God says - 'Keep my words always before your eyes.' So, when the Pharisees moved their heads, they would see the words of the Scripture, thereby keeping God's words before their eyes. According to Jesus, these Pharisees went trick or treating to all important banquets, so that everyone else could see them. That's all they really wanted. They were just putting on a show and looking for public acknowledgment and special privileges. They knew how to hold their arms up in prayer. They said the proper pious platitudes. They pretended to be holy, but they were not holy. And there is a clear message there about status and power.
Third. There is the question of titles. Jesus says that the scribes and the Pharisees loved to be greeted in marketplaces and addressed as 'Rabbi.' This because they were so enamored of their self-importance and virtues. The point Jesus wants to make here is that God alone is the source all truths and He alone as the source of all life has the right to titles of Lordship or authority. And that's why he tells his disciple not to be addressed as 'Rabbi,' or 'Father,' or 'Master.'
Now, it is easy to read today's Gospel and start pointing fingers at others but it is important that we see how it applies in my own life. The Gospel is always addressed to 'ME.' And today I need to hear what it is saying to me now. Of course, I can point a criticizing finger at all the officials I know, political, religious or otherwise, but am I so different? How often do I stand on ceremony? How touchy am I about how people treat me, especially if I have some title or responsibility, even if just that of a parent or schoolteacher? Respect cannot be demanded but only earned.
Finally, Jesus concludes by saying, “The greatest among you must be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In other words, greatness in leadership is shown by being at the service of others - to be servant-leaders. When we put ourselves on a pedestal of authority, we are in danger of being knocked down. When, following the advice of Jesus, we realize that real greatness is in offering ourselves in service as a brother/sister to brothers/sisters, then we are likely to meet support, understanding and cooperation in bringing people closer to God. For such people, the loneliness at the top will never be a problem.

In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul speaks of himself and his companions acting with genuine kindness with all possible care and protection of the Thessalonians like a nursing mother. Without boasting they shared the Good News and their very selves with them. They evangelized by word and deed - by their life and teaching. They were upright and without deception. They were men of integrity and sterling qualities. Moreover, St. Paul made a very special point of not seeking or accepting financial assistance from his converts as he in no way wanted to be a burden on anyone or the community. The demands that he and his companions made upon the Thessalonians were spiritual demands. Paul worked with them to guide them for their own personal spiritual benefit and growth. Really he did not spare his pains; he gave himself to their service without reservation. But he never attributed to himself the success of his preaching. Finally, St. Paul thanks the Lord for the faith response of the Thessalonians and is certain that indeed God works in those who believe.
This is what service means. As long as we have our health and energy, each of us should do our best not to be a burden on others. When we truly try hard to offer what we have for the well-being of others we are not likely to be such a burden. It is said, 'when everyone is giving then everyone is receiving'. It is a beautiful way to live but it is not the way of our rat-race, competitive society which thinks only of 'How much can I get?'

Although Jesus' criticisms are directed explicitly against the popular Pharisees as religious teachers and apparent models of holiness, it is clear from the text that Jesus wants to teach everyone authentic religious devotion. Today, we all are called for integrity and honesty, where there is no pulling of rank, no demand for respect or privilege or a hearing, no double standards but a deep sense of equality and mutual respect, a desire to serve, to share what we have and are for the benefit of all.
Every Christian therefore, despite the temptations to Pharisee-ism in all of us, is to seek to render selfless service rather than to obtain titles, recognition or power. Our Christian love demands of us to manifest God’s love in our life. This sounds simple but, in practice, it is something we seldom seem to do. Let us remember Jesus saying, “The greatest among you must be your servant. The best soil for the growth of Christian virtue is humble service and detachment - detachment from not only things, but from praise and prestige. In the humble Christ - poor, shunned and oppressed - is where the growth of virtue always finds a home. And this is the Good News of today.