The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Mal 1: 14b – 2: 2b-9, 13; Ps 131; 1 Thess 2: 7b – 9, 13; Matt 23: 1 – 12)
The dictionary deﬁnes posturing as an affected attitude of mind and body, behaving in order to impress, assuming an exaggerated pose, acting artiﬁcially…in a word “phoniness”.
The scene described by St Matthew is a conﬂict, a tense one between Truth, Jesus Himself, and the leaders, the scribes, and Pharisees. As we listened to the Gospel Jesus has no sympathy or reservations about their conduct, their posturing. His words could be called a litany of posturing: what they do is to be seen, their robes are adorned to be admired, they seek to be honored in any way possible, they need to be greeted. We can imagine the reaction of these leaders as their facade was torn down in front of the very people they sought to impress.
In all this Jesus is calling them to see themselves; He is calling them to conversion because they live in deception, they have bought a lie, more than one. In His own words Jesus proclaimed, “I have come to call sinners”…people who have lost their way, living in error and deception.
We know that with the Lord Jesus, there are no half-measures, no acceptance of untruth, no compromises of any kind. He calls people – us – to a way of life that is radical, profound, true and life-giving: love God above all things, your neighbor and yourself – deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me
– forgive 70 times 7 times…to name a few. To these scribes and Pharisees and to us Jesus’ message cuts through like a knife through the posturing He has witnessed and rebuked. This is truth: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” – that is, exalted by God, not by self!
Jesus can say this in all truth because in becoming man He became a servant, THE servant – “The son of Man has come to serve and not to be served.” In this Mass this becomes all too clear to us; He serves Himself to each of us in the Holy Eucharist – the host, the wine can hardly be called “self-exaltation”. He serves us – what an awesome truth and experience is
ours! The Lord comes to serve you/me in all our frailty, poverty, in all our sinfulness. He comes to serve because He desires to serve. He comes not because He is in need but because we are.
Because we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, He is our exemplar. He calls us to serve and we do – out of duty, obligation, desire. Because we are His, our service to others falls terribly short if what looks good is really self-serving…trying to impress, seeking thanks that is excessive, being egotistical, in a word serving with a price tag – a self-exalted price tag.
How do we know if your/my service is really Christ-like or not? Not always easy – we need to listen to our heart. Anything done with a self-serving attitude easily leads to resentment, childishness, sadness, anger; perhaps it has to come to this: “Lord, I pray that when I serve others, it is after Your example. If it is not, teach me and purify my motives, free me from any self-exaltation.”
Should we be concerned about our intentions, our motives? If we say that we believe in Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, as we are doing now, then our motives, intentions must be marked by His word, His Spirit. If not, then our Catholic faith is a kind of posturing – seen but empty – outwardly impressive but inwardly a wilderness.
May our loving God in His mercy deliver us from such! But more than that – ﬁll us with His own Spirit of loving service.