Gospel for Sunday, Nov. 05: Matthew 23:1-12
XXXI Sunday A
1Then Jesus addressed the crowd and his disciples 2dsaying, “On the chair of Moses sat the scribes and Pharisees. 3Practice and observe everything they tell you, but do not act according to their works, for they say and do not do. 4For they bind burdens that are heavy and hard to carry and place them on people’s shoulders, but they will not move them even with a finger. 5All their works they do in order to be admired by the people: they enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their bangs; 6they take pleasure in places of honor at banquets, in the first seats in the synagogues, 7in the salutations in the squares, as also in being called “rabbi” by the people. 8But you do not be called “rabbi,” for one is your Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call any of you on earth “father,” for one is your Father alone, the heavenly Father. 10And do not let yourselves be called “guides,” for one is your Guide, the Christ. 11Whoever among you is greater shall be your servant; 12Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
A warning for all of us
“In the gospel according to Matthew, after several confrontations and disputes between Jesus and scribes, priests, and Pharisees (cf. Mt 21:23-22:46), during his last stay in Jerusalem, he delivers a long discourse, the penultimate one, before the eschatological one. It is a collection of invectives and admonitions addressed by Jesus to those very adversaries of his who had so many times contradicted him, laid traps for him, tested him, slandered and undermined him with judgments and plots. This speech, recorded in chapter 23, is harsh, and it may surprise us to find it on the lips of one who mercifully forgave sinners, ate with them and made them feel loved by God, even if they did not deserve such love. Jesus-we may say-attacks the legitimate shepherds of his people, the leaders, those who were recognized experts in the holy Scriptures, who were held up as exemplary teachers and models for believers. Let it be clear, however, that these words of his go to strike at religious vices that are not only Jewish but also Christian!”(E. Bianchi).
An examination of conscience on how we are Church
Today the Word of God invites us to a strong examination of conscience on how we are Church. The Gospel presents us with a Pharisaic magisterium that preaches well but then does not act consistently (“they say and do not do”: Mt 23:3), ruthless in its often oppressive and unmanly legislation (“they bind heavy burdens and impose them on people’s shoulders”: Mt 23:4), ambitious and power-mongering (“to be admired…, they love places of honor…, the first seats”: Mt 23:5-7), incapable of service. But the discourse is addressed to the whole Church: “the crowds” (Mt 23:1) Jesus addresses often have ecclesial significance in Matthew.
First and foremost, Jesus tells us that we must always follow the Church’s magisterium even when those who proclaim it are inconsistent with the Gospel (Mt 23:3): we must not find excuses in the inconsistency of pastors for not converting personally. The call to follow Jesus is primarily individual; it challenges each of us.
But woe to a Church devoid of mercy and tenderness, which imposes heavy ethical burdens on others that the church ministers themselves are unable to bear (Mt 23:4).
Woe to a Church made up of externality, which follows the spirit of the world, whose ministers take pleasure in swaddling themselves in sumptuous robes, in strange vestments, with precious rings and gold pastorals, seeking to “clothe themselves like those who stand in the palaces of power (cf. Mt 11:8; Lk 7:25), and perhaps claiming to behave this way only to give glory to God and prestige to the Church, professing a false humility” (E. Bianchi).
A Church that does not mind its pastors calling themselves “Father,” when “one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Mt 23:9). The Christian is called to recognize that there is only one Father who is the heavenly Father, that there is only one Master and one Guide who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
And we are not talking about the various titles of Reverend, Monsignor, Excellency, Eminence, Holiness, which certainly never existed in the early Church but were derived from the potentates of this world in medieval or later times. “One thinks for example of ‘excellence,’ a foreign title in the Church until the last century and then borrowed by Fascism, which called prefects ‘excellence'” (E. Bianchi).
We know that so many Monsignors and Excellencies are poor, meek people, detached from power, but we should take the Gospel seriously, and really set signs of authenticity and radicality by abolishing these honorific titles and so many outward manifestations of power and wealth.
However, this discourse is not only addressed to the Church Hierarchy. Yes, it is called to conversion, and we lay people must also help it to be more faithful to the Word of the Lord. But St. Jerome warned, “Woe to us, wretches, who have inherited the vices of religious men!”
These days I am reading a translation of an ancient manuscript, sent to me by a friend, about the life of the Egyptian monk Aphu, who lived in the late 4th century. He lived always mixed with a herd of buffaloes, “wearing a ragged robe,” until they captured him to make him bishop of the city of Pemge, obliging him by obedience to accept the office. And he continued to live such a poor and austere life that everyone felt obliged to imitate him: “None of the women dared to approach him to receive communion with some object of gold. For he had commanded that no woman should approach him to receive the body and blood of Christ with any gold on her that could be seen, or even colored garments. And the deacons feared him and stood neatly by the door and let no one in who was not dressed seriously, and (took care) that the clothes they wore did not come from a dye shop, and their color was not too bright… Everything that grew out of the Church’s revenues he distributed to the poor of the city and the surrounding area, so that they would forget the condition of their poverty… He distributed among all according to the needs of each one. And on the Sabbath he spent it among those who were needy and had received insult, and provided for their needs.”
A humble and servant Church
Jesus wants a humble and poor Church, a servant of the poor and the least. And he proposes as a model his way of life: to make himself a servant, to humble himself (Phil 2:7), even to the point of washing the feet of his disciples, doing for them the act of a slave (Jn 13), with nothing to pretend, but only giving, even to the point of sacrificing his own life for his friends (Jn 15:13), even to the scandal of dying crucified (1 Cor 1:18; Gal 5:11). Iconic of this dimension of his is his entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, fulfilling Zechariah’s oracle: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you meek, seated on a donkey, with a colt the son of a beast of burden'” (Mt 21:5; cf. Zech 9:9).
Jesus’ style thus undermines any ideology, even in the Church, of relying on economic goods, even for good; of accepting compromises or agreements with the various potentates, even if for noble purposes; of seeking the public square, grandiose demonstrations, tests of strength, instruments of power of all kinds, were it even to proclaim the Kingdom. Jesus’ poverty is a sign of divine power, and that salvation comes from God and not from human means; moreover, it is a proclamation to the poor that God understands their condition, because in his Son he experienced it, shared it, took it upon himself.
Therefore, we are all called to humble service of our brothers and sisters. “There are in life three deadly, cursed verbs: to have, to go up, to command. To them Jesus opposes three blessed verbs: give, go down, serve. If you do this you are happy” (E. Ronchi).
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.