31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)


31st Sunday in Ordinary Time- on the Gospel

Malachi 1:14-2:2,8-10

1 Thessalonians 2:7-9,13

Matthew 23:1-12

Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp

In Christ, All Brothers and Sisters

 A group of African missionaries were sent to work in a diocese in Zambia. On arrival they discovered that almost all the missionaries in the diocese were Americans. The American missionaries called the bishop, who was African, by his first name. The newly arrived African missionaries thought that this was inappropriate and decided to change it. They taught the people to call the bishop “My Lord.” This was new to the people but they were ready to learn. One day a woman came to see the bishop and the person she met was one of the American priests. She asked him, “Where is Our Lord?” to which the priestly gleefully replied, “Our Lord is in the tabernacle.”

Vatican II brought much change and renewal in the church. But it is interesting that the area of titles and way of addressing church leaders has undergone practically no change whatsoever. A priest is still called “Reverend Father,” a bishop “My Lord” or “Your Excellency,” a cardinal “Your Eminence,” the head of a religious community is still the “superior.” One wonders how the church allowed the use of these high-sounding titles to develop among the faithful, given the fact that the church has always read today’s gospel which cautions them against the use of titles that reflect a superior-inferior relationship.

Of course, we should not take the words of Jesus too literally. The message of Christ has more to do with attitudes and behaviour than with the use of words and terminologies. Take the case of a self-styled prophet who founded a church, asked his followers to address him as “Brother,” yet sits on a throne and have his “brothers and sisters” come to him walking on their knees. Or the case of high-level government officials who are called ministers, which literally means servants, yet this does not make them any humbler. The Law of Christ has more to do with attitudes and behaviour than with just words.

Attachment to power and social esteem — love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi (Matthew 23:6-7) — compromises the Christ-like witness of the servant of God. But, here comes the good news: it does not nullify the divine authority of the office. The person occupying a teaching office among the people of God may be personally unfaithful, not practising what they teach. But God is faithful and guarantees that the teaching office itself is not contaminated with error, and so the teaching itself remains sound and valid.

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach (vv 2-3).

Should we ever have the misfortune of knowing some Christian leaders who are as hypocritical as the scribes and the Pharisees described in today’s gospel, the challenge for us would be to try and make a distinction between what they teach, which may be sound, and how they live, which may not be worthy of emulation. We must not throw away the baby with the bathwater. Abuse of an office does not nullify the validity of the office itself. Those who distance themselves from the church because they heard or saw unbecoming behaviour on the part of some church ministers may indeed be throwing away the baby with the bathwater.

The reading ends with a call for evangelical humility on the part of Christian leaders. What is evangelical humility? It is the recognition that those we evangelize or minister to are not below us but are, in fact, equal to us in the eyes of God. With this humility, preaching becomes not talking down to the people but sharing with them our common struggle to understand and live God’s word. With evangelical humility the basic pattern of relationship between ministers and the people of God whom they serve becomes not that of father-son or teacher-student but brother-brother, brother-sister or friend-friend.

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. … There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).


31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 Homily # 1

In today’s gospel Jesus delivers a stinging rebuke to the Scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus indicates the Jewish people should listen to the teachings of these men but should not follow their example. Gospels like today’s are difficult for us to understand because we are not familiar with the Jewish life style in the 1st century. The reference to phylacteries and tassels mean nothing to us.

So, how do Jesus’ words apply here in the 21st century? He is telling us, “Be aware who we listen to and who we imitate. “These men preach but they do not practice.” Yes, if Jesus were here today would he be saying, “Don’t pay attention to some of the things you see at the movies or on television, don’t listen to some of the rap songs on the radio, don’t admire the rich people who have gained their wealth by dishonestly inflating the earnings of their companies only to have the company go bankrupt and their employees lose their pensions?”

He is saying, ” Choose carefully those to whom you listen because there are many examples in our society of the modern “Scribes and Pharisees.”

Rather He tells us, “You have but one Teacher, you have one Master and the greatest among you must be a servant to others.” And that’s true. We think of some of the powerful and famous people in our country who support abortion, same sex relations, produce filthy movies and try to pass laws that mock God.

Yes, we live in a society that is much like the society Jesus spoke about. Some of the young people here do get excited by the lyrics of modern “rap” music. When you really listen to the message it is anything but “exciting”. We listen to some politicians, some film and television stars whose lives are not what we would like to copy. Their lives seem to be dedicated to their own pleasure and to their power.

The words Jesus spoke 2000 years ago are just as true today as they were then. The real heroes seem to be people like Mother Teresa who had no wealth, who spent her time helping the poor and disabled, spent hours each day in prayer and was admired world wide as one of the guiding lights of our century. Pope John Paul also commanded world wide respect and affection. Why? Because the world recognized his holiness,

And so, I believe that all of us have to look beyond those who are rich, famous and powerful and listen and emulate to those who we really should admire.

Young people, really consider your parents. Now you might say, “Well my parents aren’t pop stars or movie stars or famous people!” No, that may be true but your parents love you more that any of the famous people you read about or listen to. Your parents have given you a home, probably a wonderful education, have been there to love you at times when you’ve gotten into trouble and, most of all, have loved you, even when things weren’t going too well. Sometimes it may not seem that way but if you step back and analyze what they are doing for you, you quickly realize they are trying to keep you from heartbreak, from choices that can ruin your life and just bring misery into your life. It’s simple …. they really do love you.

The parents here are in a similar position. It’s not wealth that brings happiness, it’s not power that brings satisfaction. Every day we read of men and women who achieved their wealth or their fame from dishonest or immoral pursuits. But, what is their gain? Some wind up in prison even though they have a net worth in the millions of dollars. In television and the movies some reach heights of popularity and wealth but they do it by involving themselves in “R’ and “X” rated productions. Is that worth it? Jesus would tell us “”No, Its not worth it.” But for those of us who are older, we realize that the happiest moments of our lives are with (your-our) families, (your-our) children and, especially, with your (our) grandchildren.

Consider the life of Jesus. He wasn’t rich, He wasn’t politically powerful, He didn’t have a lot of wealthy and influential friends but in just the 3 years of His public life, He changed the world.

So let us consider what is really important to us and to our families. Jesus tells us there are those who would seem to be important or popular but they are living lives that lead to moral bankruptcy. They may have wealth, they may be popular and they may seem to have everything one would want out of life……

except happiness, which come from God.

Think of all those rich and famous people and then consider His words:



Homily # 2

One of my childhood heroes was Superman, the guy who was faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc, etc.  What I especially admired and longed to imitate was his X-ray vision.  Nothing was hidden from Superman.  He could see right through solid walls and spot a criminal or someone in distress.  Criminals hated that X-ray vision, but innocent people thought it was great. What a guy with what a gift.

Jesus has a kind of X-ray vision all his own and it was certainly a lot more powerful that Superman’s.  Way beyond just seeing through solid walls, Jesus could look all the way into the hidden places of a human heart.  In today’s Gospel we encounter Jesus looking into the hearts of some pious Pharisees, who made such an outward display of their obedience to the Jewish law, and discovering not holiness but hypocrisy.  It’s obvious from his reaction that he was more than a little dispirited in what he saw.  Listen again to his remarks, “they preach but they do not practice, all their works are performed to be seen.”  Now, remember, Jesus loved those Pharisees; so, we can be sure that he pointed out their faults not to condemn them but to encourage their conversion.  Surely he would much rather have liked to say of them what St. Paul said of his Thessalonians followers, “we give thanks that in hearing us you received not a human word but the work of God which is now at work in you.”

There is a caution in all of that for us.  We are gathered here today in an outward display of our religious piety.  What if Jesus were to turn his X-ray vision on us?  Well, if we really meant what we sang (said) just a few minutes ago, “In you, Lord, I have found my peach,” we would expect that he would find holiness because holiness is the road to peace; but, if we are honest, we’d have to admit that holiness is not all that Jesus would find when he looked into the recesses of our hearts.  There is no denying that there is a whole lot of hierocracy also.

Just for starters, the whole church is still staggering under the scandal caused by a few priests and bishops found to be living hypocritical lives – acting like wolves while posing as shepherds.  Many if not all of us were shocked into disbelief and rightly so; but that sad experience doesn’t stand-alone.

Let’s consider how hypocritical it is for someone to approach the altar Sunday after Sunday to take a share of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, while all too eager to cast a vote for politicians who support and promote the killing of unborn children.

How hypocritical it is for married couples to go to almost any length, using pills and any other kind of scientific devices so they can abandon the promise they made on their wedding day to accept children lovingly from God.

How hypocritical it is to challenge the young to just say no to drugs while adults casually indulge and overindulge, themselves on alcohol at church-sponsored events.

How hypocritical it is to beg God to bless America while filling our minds with the filth that pours out of our Television screens.

The list could go on and on.  It is so easy to be hypocritical that we can even be hypocritical about being a hypocrite.

Jesus loves us no less than he loved those Pharisees so that, if we hear him speaking challenging words in the recesses of our conscience, words like he addressed to the Pharisees, we must believe that he is simply calling us to a change of heart.  The Pharisees hated his words and finally begged for his death on the cross.  What will our reaction be?

Homily # 3

It is amazing how the words Jesus spoke 2000 years ago still ring true.  When speaking to the people He says this regarding the Pharisees, “Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you but do not follow their example.  For they preach what they do not practice.   They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues.”  In other words, the Pharisees liked the “good life” but they didn’t want to pay the price … they just wanted the glory.

And Jesus says, “Do not follow their example!”  We might say,  “Well, those words were spoken a long time ago.  They don’t apply to us today.”  However, does any group come to mind that could be compared with the Pharisees?  Could it be some of the executives at the Enron Corporation.  They seemed to like the “good life” but Jesus would never recommend we follow their dishonest examples.  How about the men and women who run the big brokerage houses on Wall Street? Weren’t they like the Pharisees, they wanted all the honors and the glory but, at the same time, they were deceiving those people who depended on to their advice and, as a result lost millions.

And, to be honest, haven’t some of the Archbishops and Bishops in our Church done the same thing?  They seemed to enjoy the spotlight but didn’t want the light to uncover some of the unsavory practices that went on in their diocese.

So, yes, Jesus is speaking to us and is addressing the situations we find all around us today.  Jesus voices His advice in plain language, “Call no one on earth your father: you have but one Father in Heaven.  Do not be called ‘Master’, you have but one Master, the Christ.”

Jesus is saying it doesn’t make any difference how much money we have or how famous we are.  That’s not why we are here.  We are here for only one purpose: to someday join Jesus in Heaven by obeying the Commandments and His following his teaching while we are here.

Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t be rich or famous?  No, not at all.  He does tell us, however, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Jesus Himself should be our example.  He was never guilty of any crime and yet he was arrested, put on trial, tortured and, ultimately, martyred on the cross.  Following his example can be difficult but it leads to a reward that is far greater than any monetary compensation we can ever receive.

Those rich and famous people who are now in disgrace provide us with  the perfect example of what Jesus is telling us.  Would anyone here like to change places with any of those men or women who made millions of dollars, seemed to enjoy hobnobbing with other famous individuals and basked in the seeming glory of their accomplishments?  We might have been willing to change places with them when they seemed to have great wealth and the admiration everyone.

However, the lesson to all of us today is Jesus is telling us us that God should be number 1 in our lives.  It is not wrong to have wealth, fame and power but those are not the keys to our real success.  As Jesus says in the gospel, “You are all brothers.”

To me, that takes a real load off my shoulders.  The secret of success is attainable by me and each one of us here at this Mass.   For the young people here the message is, “You don’t have to be the most popular, the best looking or the smartest person in your class.”  There’s nothing wrong with achieving any of those goals but the important part of your life still should center on Jesus Christ.  He is also saying to everyone, “You don’t have to live in the biggest house, earn the highest salary or belong to 3 different country clubs.”  If you can have all those luxuries, fine.  But, He warns us, “the greatest among you must be your servant… whoever exalts himself shall be humbled.”

These are words that can bring great consolation to each of us.  How I treat my classmates, my fellow employees or those who work for me is more important than making 10 million dollars.  Being the prettiest woman in the neighborhood is nice but that’s not how God will judge us.  As Jesus says of the Pharisees, “They preach but they do not practice.”

And so, as we gather here today the lesson is that we don’t need all the trappings of importance, money, powerful positions, beauty and the rest of the traits that our society emphasizes.  Jesus simply states the obvious, “You have but one teacher and you are all brothers.”  Our God, our faith, our charity toward others and having a family that truly believes in what Jesus is saying to us, today, is the reason for our being here.  We don’t have to be the most successful,  the most powerful, the smartest or the best looking individual in our community.

This morning, as we come to Communion, let’s each consider the fact that we are probably all pretty good people.  Let’s also realize that while we may envy others some of the seeming advantages they may have, we may read in tomorrow’s newspaper that maybe it’s not always such a good thing to have power, wealth and fame.  As we leave here this morning  and gather with our families driving home discuss, together,  the words of Jesus and how they apply to our lives, everyday.

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”


Word Alive

They preach but don’t practice


October 29, 2011, 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Once a bishop was giving a talk about world hunger. “Millions of people in the world are starving. They eat barely once a day.” But he was speaking at a dinner overflowing with food and wine!

Then there was a  couple who was preparing to go to Mass. The  phone  rang and  the husband, a lay minister in church, picked it up. Apparently it was a wrong  number. “Don’t bother me with your wrong numbers,” he growled. “We’re  in a hurry to go to church!”

* * *

In this 31st Sunday gospel, Jesus denounced the religious leaders  of His time, saying: “The scribes and Pharisees sit in the chair of Moses but do not follow their example. For they preach but do not practice” (what they say) (Mt 23:3). Jesus’ words may well apply to the bishop and the lay minister in the above stories, which shows a yawning gap between words and deeds.

* * *

Jesus went further and said, “All their works are performed to be seen. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honors, and titles like “Rabbi.”

“That should not be the case with you,” Jesus said. “The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Mt 23:11). Greatness is not concerned with such, the Lord pointed out, but in the capacity to serve.

There is a story about the lovable, good old Pope John XXIII. On his way home to the Vatican, he made a surprise visit to a convent where nuns of the Holy Spirit congregation resided.

* * *

The whole community led by their superior came out to meet their VIP guest. “And who’re you?” the amiable pope asked the portly sister who was the first to greet him. The sister visibly nervous, blurted out, “Your Holiness, I am the Mother Superior of the Holy Spirit!”

“Mother Superior of the Holy Spirit!” said the pope. “Lucky for you, sister, because I am just the Servant of the Servants of God.”

* * *

Obviously, there is nothing wrong about titles and positions. What makes them wrong is the attitude that authority is appropriated purely for personal glory and interest without regard for humble service to people. What is condemned is not authority but authoritarianism. The gospel message is a clear warning to priests and bishops.

However, it applies also to men and women of authority. For instance, government leaders who preach austerity or impose new taxes should show good example by not junketing abroad or undertaking ill-timed projects.

* * *

BY THE WAY, Catholics are criticized by Bible Christians for calling the pope “Holy Father” and priests “Fathers.”

They say this is against the teaching of Christ, citing this Sunday’s gospel. “You must not be called ‘Teacher’… And do not call anyone on earth your ‘Father.’

* * *

In reply, such an interpretation leads to absurdities. Taken literally, the words would forbid us to call our natural fathers “Father.” Then how would we call our teachers in school?

What Christ stresses is that our concern should not be after titles of honor and worldly dignity, things which the scribes and Pharisees’ were craving for.



BANAL NA ASO, SANTONG KABAYO: Reflection for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – October 30, 2011

“Banal na aso, santong kabayo!” ang turing natin sa mga taong panlabas lamang ang pagpapakita ng pananampalataya. Minsan ay may isang lalaking deboto ng Nazareno na ang pangalan ay Mando (a.k.a.”Mandurugas” hehe). Mahilig siyang magsimba kapag Biyernes at palagi syang sumasama sa prusisyon ng Poong Nazareno na nakapaa. May kakaibang gawain itong si Mando. Ang trabaho nya ay magsnatch sa Quiapo. Minsan siya ay nang-snatch ng cellphone at humarurot ng takbo. Dahil hinabol ng pulis ay naisipan niyang magtago sa simbahan. Nagtago siya sa tabi ng Santo Entiero at hingal na hingal na bumulong. “Panginoon, mabuti na lang at hindi ako naabutan ng mga pulis! Salamat Po Panginoon!” Laking gulat niya ng biglang sumagot ang nakahigang estatwa ni Jesus: “Mapalad ka Mando, MAPALAD KA!” Nagulumihanan si Mando at nagtanong: “Panginoon, hindi ko maintindihan… paano ako naging mapalad!” At sumagot muli si Jesus: “Mapalad ka Mando at nakahiga ako dito sa loob, kung hindi… sinapak na kita!” Marahil isang kuwento lamang ngunit kapupulutan natin ng mahalagang aral: Hndi natutuwa ang Panginoon sa mga taong ang pagsasabuhay ng pananampalataya ay hanggang salita lamang at wala sa gawa! Ito ang pagkakamali ng mga Pariseo, mas higit nilang pinahalagahan ang kanilang posisyon bilang mga guro at tagapagpaliwanang ng Kautusan kaysa pagsasabuhay nito. Kaya nga’t ang payo ni Jesus ay “sundin ninyo ang kanilang iniuutos nguit huwang tularan ang kanilang gawa!” Bakit? Sapagkat hindi nila isinabubuhay ang kanilang itinuturo. Kung minsan ay may Pariseo rin sa bawat isa sa atin. Gaano ba tayo kaseryoso sa ating pagiging Kristiyano? Isinasabuhay ba natin ang mga aral na ating tinanggap kay Kristo? Baka naman tayo rin ay walang pinagkaiba sa mga Kristiyanong “banal na aso at santong kabayo?” Simba ng simba, dasal ng dasal ngunit ang puso naman ay malayo sa Diyos. Hingin natin sa Panginonn ang biyaya ng pagpapakumbaba na aminin ang ating kakulangan sa tapat na pagsasabuhay ng ating pananampalataya. Baka naman may dapat pa tayong baguhin sa ating mga sarili upang mabawasan ang pagpapaimbabaw sa ating buhay Kristiyano? Tandaan natin na tayo ay Kristiyano sa salita at gawa!



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