31st Sunday, Ordinary time
Cycle “A” – 2017
A dad was returning from a round of golf. As he opened the front door, his excited little son ran to meet him. “Daddy, Daddy, did you win?” the toddler asked.
“Well son,” replied the father, “in golf it doesn’t matter so much if you win or lose. But I want you to know that your dad got to hit the ball more times than anyone else on the course!”
We all want to be winners! — SUCCEEDING, being GREAT, is as important to us, as it was for those Pharisees in (this evening’s/morning’s) gospel. The problem is to figure out what being “great” means. — Most of us get the definition at least half wrong a good part of our lives. And even if we do get the concept clear in our heads, it may not get transmitted to that inner-sanctum of the heart, where our decisions are made. What all this means is that our chances of finding our way to real success are not terrific.
Now the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, were a group of Jewish scholars who were experts in the Law of Moses. And, for the most part, they were held in awe by their contemporaries. In many ways the Pharisees were the BEST PEOPLE in the land! Following God’s commands was the focus of their lives. (And, there’s nothing wrong with that!) ————– But, somewhere along the way, the Pharisees seemed to have gotten “side-tracked” and MISSED THE POINT! — In their desperate desire to obey God’s laws, they began piling on more and more rules for people to follow, (to INSURE that God’s/ laws would be obeyed to the “n-th degree”)! It wasn’t long before the Pharisees had compiled more than FIFTY VOLUMES of rules and regulations that had to be followed if a Jew wanted to be considered RIGHTEOUS!
For example: Following the directions laid down in Deuteronomy 11:18: ([Thus says the Lord] “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.”)— following these directions literally, the Pharisees wore small leather boxes called “phylacteries” on their wrists and foreheads. These phylacteries contained verses of Scripture. But, human nature being what it is; some of the Pharisees began wearing LARGER and LARGER phylacteries, as if to show that they were even more religious than their colleagues! The Pharisees did the same thing with the tassels they wore at the corners of their garments. And, eventually, a fierce competition developed over who wore the longest tassels on his robes!
That’s why Jesus CHALLENGES them in today’s gospel, declaring that: THEY’D MISSED THE POINT! “Everything (the Pharisees) do is done for people to see,” said Jesus. “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’”
Jesus, on the other hand, concentrated his teaching, (as we heard again last week), on the IMPORTANCE of loving God and loving our neighbor! Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus tried to tell the Pharisees, (and anyone else who would listen) that: “Faith is not about rules; it’s about a RELATIONSHIP! — As Jesus mapped it out for us, the most important step on our journey to God is that WE FALL PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH GOD! — And then, that we give CONCRETE “PROOF” of that love, by doing real, tangible, practical acts of love for our NEIGHBOR. (Treating them in the same way in which we, ourselves would like to be treated!) — ONCE you know God and love God; and begin treating others in a loving way; then THE RULES WILL COME NATURALLY!
Jesus wasn’t trying to abolish the Law of Moses! He was trying to move BEYOND it!
Wearing large phylacteries and long tassels has nothing to do with it! Which is why Jesus goes on to say, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
What does it mean to be a SERVANT? The specifics will vary for each one of us, and at each stage of our lives; but the basic pattern will be the same for us all! It starts with naming and claiming our gifts, every last one of them. THAT’S WHAT true HUMILITY is all about! — (To minimize or discount our gifts is not only “FALSE humility”; it is a serious ACT of INGRATITUDE to God, who gave us the gifts in the first place.)
And then, once we’ve NAMED and CLAIMED our GIFTS, we must recognize them as our ASSIGNMENT from God! Our GIFTS give us an important CLUE as to WHAT God wants from us. — For the rest of the clues, all we have to do is to look around us, and see who needs what gifts God has given us; because gifts are always put in our hands to be given away! — The GREAT SAINTS down through the ages have known that; so have good neighbors, good parents and good friends!
When all is said and done:
HOLINESS has nothing to do with what we wear, and very little to do with what we say. Rather, true holiness is about GRASPING the opportunities for service that each day brings us; and then using those opportunities to GROW and become BETTER PERSONS and ASSISTING others to do the same.
THIS is what gives glory to God!