Today's Gospel is like a slap in the face for me as a priest. Because in it, Jesus tells me very clearly what I should avoid, but I also see the sad spectacle of priests throughout history who have not avoided it. And I myself realize how easily I can go wrong if I am not attentive.
What is Jesus talking about? He is warning the people against the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees. He is telling them that they should do whatever the scribes and Pharisees say, for they occupy "the seat of Moses".that is, that they were teachers of the law that God gave to Moses and that law, in the main, was good. But he goes on to say these alarming words: "Do and fulfill all that they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they say, but do not do".
How terrible. To be a religious leader and not practice what you preach. Jesus continues: "They carry heavy bundles and load them on people's shoulders, but they are not willing to lift a finger to push. All they do is for people to see them: they lengthen the phylacteries and enlarge the borders of the cloak; they like the first places at banquets and the seats of honor in the synagogues; they like to be bowed to in the squares and to be called rabbis".
May the Lord deliver us from that: placing heavy burdens on others and living in laziness and comfort ourselves. Trying to "look" religious in order to be seen by men. Wearing flashy clothes (how sad it is that priests worry too much about their clothing). Or wanting positions of honor and the best treatment.
How terrible: to enter religious life, the apparent service of God, in order to seek worldly benefits. Thank God, the times when being a priest or religious served to obtain earthly benefits are long gone, at least in many places. But we can still look too hard for the few possible perks, and there are still places in the world where the priesthood could be a way out of poverty or into a better life. So these are dangers to be aware of.
But Jesus is not only addressing priests. He speaks to all of us of radical service and of not using religion for our own earthly ends. How easily we can get it wrong. We can all impose burdens on others and do nothing to alleviate them. "I am in command," we say to our subordinates, "so you must serve me." Or without saying so, that is our attitude. And we forget that authority is not for others to serve us, but for us to serve them. Or we try to show off and appear pious and religious, which is like a corruption of religion.
And then, Jesus gets to his key point: "The first among you shall be your servant. He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.". The idea is clear: leadership is service.
Homily on the readings of the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
The priest Luis Herrera Campo offers its nanomiliaA short one-minute reflection for these Sunday readings.