31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 30, 2011
Malachi 1.14-2, 8-10 | Psalm 131 | 1 Thessalonians 2.7-9, 13 | Matthew 23.1-12

Ralph Himsl

October 24, 2011

The Gospel readings for recent Sundays have Jesus engaged in discussions with priests, scribes, elders and Pharisees - community leaders in Jerusalem. He berates them in personal confrontations.

Even in their absence, as in today's Gospel, he discusses their failings in a forthright manner. He acknowledges their intimate knowledge of the law - the scribes for example, made copies of its texts and so knew them well. But their failure to live by its requirements drew Jesus' ire.

Though their smug conduct that Jesus criticizes has no appeal for us, we recognize that his sharp comments must have offended them, setting the scene for troubles soon to come.

'But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.'

Matthew 23.8

Despite his criticisms, Jesus espies a nugget of worth in their makeup and speaks of it to the crowds and disciples in today's reading, "Do whatever they (the scribes and Pharisees) teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach."

Knowing Jesus as the source of that injunction, its generosity does not surprise us and his courage and good sense delight us.

He says to his disciples, "They teach good stuff, but they behave poorly; ignore their behaviour."

When we think of our own times, we see that Jesus' criticisms would find ready use as we learn with dismay of the lapses of community leaders across the broad spectrum of modern society – criticisms merited in full measure for those who have betrayed the trust society granted them in their office.

Memory holds a list of bad actors: senior military personnel, financial advisors, clergymen, lawyers, sports coaches, medical practitioners, judges, police officers, teachers, professors, artists, holders of public office, would-be caregivers.


I hasten to add that each of these aforementioned groups contains people of rich character and noble behaviour. Praise them!

But we feel sore and troubled at the scamps, those people in Canada who made radical misuse of the positions they held. They abused others and cared little for the respect society granted them – these "elders, chief priests, and scribes" of our day.

However, we can pierce the clouds of this gloomy meditation. We can listen closely to the reading from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, the Second Reading for today's Mass, or read it again in the Sunday Missal.


St. Paul speaks of his own resolve to share the Gospel of God with the Thessalonians, and his commitment to do as he says, "We are determined to share with you . . . our own selves." He pinpoints the very element missing from the conduct of the chief priests, elders and scribes.

Do we fear for ourselves, that our behaviours might in some way resemble those that Jesus scorns?

No need, Paul says. I have a preventative: you accepted the word of God, not as a human word but . . . . as the word of God which is also at work in you believers.

Faith at work.