Sunday Gospel Reflection – 31st Sunday
Towards a humble Church (Matt 23:21)
“Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus was very merciful regarding sins of weakness but he could not stand religious hypocrisy. He specifically highlighted three temptations likely to affect religious leaders. They do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders but exempt themselves. And they love attention … in the way they dress, mixing with the important people, always in the front line of the photograph and very touchy about their titles. They make a career out of religion. Jesus wants his disciples to show a different sort of leadership. He wants humble service. “The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
One has only to look at the empty seats in churches which were packed not too long ago, or look at the age profile of those who continue to come to Mass, to recognise that the Church here in Europe is in serious need of reform. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis shunned some of the papal garments (“broader phylacteries and longer tassels”) as an indication of a servant Church. It took a long time to admit that clericalism was a factor in the failure to deal honestly with clerical abuse. Ten years of Francis’ pontificate prepared the way for the Synod, literally, walking together with one another and the Holy Spirit. It is a process of Communion, Participation and Mission. The Church of the future will be closer to the gospel, less clerical, more humble, and missionary.
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts self will be humbled, and anyone who humbles self will be exalted.”
Religion is about love of God and neighbour
As we saw in last Sunday’s Gospel, true religion is based on love of God and love of our neighbour. Hypocritical religion makes use of religion for one’s own importance. Satan, the master deceiver, will do anything to bring down the Church. Satan will probe a person’s character for any little chink of weakness which will enable entrance into that person’s life. It may be the greed and dishonesty of a Judas or the political fear of a Pilate. It may be lust, ambition or vanity. There is a short saying in Latin, corruptio optimi pessima, corruption of the best is worst of all. A dirty tactic in sport is to hammer the hammer, in other words, take out their leader. Shakespeare expressed it well in one of his sonnets: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” Jesus showed great mercy towards the weeds of human weakness but he detested the stench of religious flowers which had become corrupt.
We pray that those who are appointed leaders in the Church may be motivated by the ideal of humble service.
That we may not consider ourselves superior to others: may we regard others as our brothers and sisters in the family of God.
May we never demand high standards of others while we make excuses for ourselves.
May it be our joy as Christians to be humble servants of God and our neighbour.
God, our Father, bind us together in your great universal family. We offer our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master. Amen.