Sunday, November 5, 2017


November 5, 2017 –– 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 1:14b–2:2b, 8–10 / Psalm 131 / 1 Thessalonians 2:7b–9, 13 / Matthew 23:1–12

No one likes a hypocrite. Some of the strongest words in Scripture are directed toward religious people who say one thing and do another. The first reading and the Gospel are examples. Through Malachi, God warns priests who do not keep my ways. In the Gospel, Jesus describes some of the Pharisees by saying: they preach but they do not practice.

It’s likely that many of the Pharisees meant well. They understood that God had commanded his people to be holy. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to define the world holy? “Holy” can be threatening. It can seem unattainable. It can even project images of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. It seems easier to describe what holiness is not than to define what it is, but that can turn into a negative bunch of rules. Some perfectionists are rigid because they so deeply want everything to be right. Even beyond that, some people who want to emphasize holiness do so by exalting themselves––what they do and don’t do, and that is the essence of hypocrisy.

It’s not that boundaries and rules are bad (try to imagine football with no boundaries or rules!) but, again, no one likes a hypocrite. So the thing that puts the boundaries and rules in proper perspective is, using the football analogy, a love of the game and good sportsmanship.  A good word for those things is integrity. People respect integrity––in total contrast to hypocrisy––and especially in religion. It is refreshing to find a wonderful example of this in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

There have always been so-called “spiritual leaders” who are charlatans. There are hucksters and hypocrites in our world, and in Paul's day there were many wandering teachers and magicians who made a living by fleecing other people and living wicked lives. Some of Paul's opponents in Thessalonica tried to put him in that category. They said: 
––he was in error (v3) 
––he had impure motives (v3) 
––he was trying to trick them (v3) 
––he was trying to impress them (v4) 
––he was a flatterer (v5) 
––he was greedy (v5)

Paul was not that kind of man. Later in this letter he urged his readers to embrace his own standard: to abstain from every form of evil (1Thess 5:22). He did not even take what he could have legitimately received for his ministry. It was his right to receive from the people his upkeep for the time he was with them. But no, he worked night and day in order not to burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God (v9). One loose translation says, "Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the gospel to you might not cost you a penny” (J.B.Phillips). Paul's way of living was so entwined with that of Christ that his very life was an expression of the gospel. That is integrity. 

The Thessalonians saw a picture of the heavenly Father through Paul. He says we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God (vs.11,12). Paul was able to affirm: in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe. It was out of this that the Thessalonian church was born. One goal of a Christian life is to model who God is; the Lord builds his Church on that.

The Psalmist describes integrity as someone who stands by his oath even to his hurt or to put it another way, makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise (15:4). Integrity is someone who is willing to say "I was wrong.” Integrity is helping others at a cost to ourselves. The test of integrity is when the heat is on––when we are under is pressure. Paul reminded the Thessalonian church: we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition (v2). Our integrity, or the lack of it, also shows when we think no one looking. Someone has said a man is what he does when he is alone.

Often the biggest impediment to integrity is trying to appear better than we are. This is why Jesus criticized the Pharisees. We are not here to impress each other. In the Gospel Jesus says the way to be great is to a servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. And Jesus tells us why this is so important: you have but one Father in heaven and you are all brothers. We need to walk humbly before God (see Micah 6:8). When our thoughts turn to who might be looking at us, let’s remember that––first of all––we are living under the gaze of our Lord.

God is calling us to love him––each one of us with our personal gifts and weaknesses, and in our respective places. St Augustine said Love God and do what you will.  When we do that, through his grace and strength, our lives can model consistency and love and faithfulness. That is one of the best ways to evangelize. The world is hungry for people who live with integrity.

Hear again these words from St Paul: we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.… That is the Christian character of integrity.

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