XXXI Sunday of Ordinary Time – November 5, 2017
Mal 1.14- 2.2.8-10; Ps131; 1Ths 2.7-9.13; Mt 23: 1-12
2Sam 7.1-6.8-9.12-14a.16-17; Ps 45; Col 1,9b-14; Jh 18.33c-37
Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe – Solemnity of the Lord
1) Love and the Law.
Last Sunday we meditated over the first and great commandment, love for God, and the second which is similar to the first, love for the neighbor: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22, 40).
In this Sunday‘s Gospel, we are called to examine in depth the fact that Love is not opposed to the Law. St. Matthew shows that, contrary to what the Scribes and Pharisees think, Jesus does not despise the Law and does not intend to replace it with Love. Love is the fulfillment of the Law and the bond of perfection (see Col 3, 14; Rm 13, 10). Without Love the Law dies, and the Prophet fades. Love does not replace the Legacy, but observes and fulfills it. Love is not an empty and superficial feeling, it does not neglect the Law but lives it in full. Love does not content itself by not saying the false, but seeks the truth. Love is not satisfied with not killing, but gives life. Love not only does not steal, but meets the need of the brothers.
In today’s Gospel, it emerges that, for Christ, the Law is not to be reduced to a series of precepts to be put into practice. The Law is the word of God that indicates his will for life. Jesus is the first to accomplish this will, which is a gift that God gives to live as new men in love. Those who observe the commandments love and fulfill the law that is the path of life.
As the Prophets have constantly reminded, Jesus teaches that the Law is an expression of the cure with which God, as a shepherd, guides his people on the path to freedom.
If we listen to the word of the Father as Christ did, like him we live incarnating it and practicing filial love which prevents that law compliance is reduced to an empty, rigid and inhumane legalism and, on the contrary, becomes a path of authenticity and holiness, that is, of full and not pharisaic maturity.
2) Children, brothers and servants.
The attitude opposed to the attitude of the Pharisee is the fraternity among us because we are really the children of God (cf. 1 Jn 3: 1) who is a Father who loves to the point of giving his Son for our salvation. God is a Father who never leaves his children. He is a loving Father who sustains, helps, welcomes, forgives, and saves with a fidelity that immensely surpasses the fidelity of men to open itself to the dimensions of eternity “because his love is forever” (Ps 137). The love of God the Father never fails, and does not get tired of us; it is love that gives to the extreme, and to the sacrifice of the Son. We, children in the Son, are called to live Christian morality as an ethic of fraternity that becomes viable, thanks to the Eucharistic communion.
This sacramental communion is not merely a private prayer where the single Christian encounters his God, although he ought to do that. Sacramental Communion is more: it is the seal of mutual affiliation among Christians through their common bond with Christ. That is why it is an essential part of the Holy Mass in which we celebrate this union as brothers through our brother Jesus Christ. Eucharistic communion
– is an integral part of the event that is the Holy Mass:
– is the seal of the fraternity between God and men and therefore, starting with God, of men among themselves;
– is the inclusion of all men in the event of the Cross so that the whole world is delivered to God and thereby is led to its true meaning;
– is the call of every single Christian to be the living tabernacle of God in the world.
As tabernacles, we bring Love to the world realizing that the greatest of us is not the one who has the most, but the one who loves more thanks to the love he has in himself. In order to flourish, the world needs love and not wealth. Then, the greatest person of our world will be perhaps an unknown mother who works and loves in the secret of her home, or in the forests of Africa or Amazonia, or in the hiding of a small office or factory. Jesus overthrows our idea of greatness saying “You are as great as great your heart is.” We are great when we know how to love and when we know how to do it as Jesus did, translating love into the divine madness of service: “I came to serve not to be served.” The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “(Mt 23: 11-12).
This is the novelty brought by Christ: God is between us and He does not keep the world at His feet. He is at the feet of all. God is the great servant, not the master. I will serve Him because He has become my servant.
Service is what allows the establishment of the civilization of love, where the greatest is the one who loves serving. “Washing the feet to the Apostles,” said Pope Francis on March 12, 2016, “Jesus wanted to reveal God’s way of acting toward us and give an example of his” new commandment “to love one another as He has loved us, that is, by giving his life for us. ” Service is “the way to live faith” in Jesus “and to bear witness to his love”. Love is concrete service, “a humble service made in silence and concealment. Love requires “works”, not just “words”. Love asks us “to make available the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, so that the community can grow”. Love “expresses itself in the sharing of material goods so that no one is in need.” It is a task that applies to believers and not only to them: sharing and dedication to those in need is a lifestyle that God asks from all Christians as a way of authentic humanity and holiness.
Regarding mutual service, Christ lovingly commands “The greatest among you is your servant; those who will rise will be lowered, and those who lower will be lifted up”. Jesus has given the example: “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.“(John 13: 12-14). This means that whoever has more must not hold it, but donate it; to be great is not a privilege, but a mission. The Lord will ask us to be accountable for the abundance that we have exploited and not offered for the benefit of others. God’s gifts and charisms are for the common utility (cf. 1 Cor 12). We are like a body, with several members – noble or not – but all necessary for the good of the whole organism. Service, charity, and being available to others is not giving more, but a responsibility and a duty. They are a right of the poor and the weak, a right claimed before God.
This “command” to service is especially addressed to the consecrated Virgins. In fact, the Ordo virginum includes virgin women who, “embracing the holy purpose of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite. They are joined in mystical marriage to Christ the Son of God and dedicate themselves to the service of the Church “(CIC Article 604 § 1). The specificity of consecrated virginity is the “marriage” with Christ which “acquires the value of a ministry in the service of the people of God and places the consecrated persons in the heart of the Church and the world” (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins, Premise).
The Consecrated Virgins are in this ecclesial journey precisely for a particular reference to the sphere of the affections. In fact, with their lives and devoting to Him and His Kingdom all their own forces of love, they testify that every vocation is the welcoming of God’s charity and the answer to Him in the service to others. They reminds us of the theological source of love above all through virginity. Their virginity recalls the virginity of the heart and affections that arises from and feeds on the intimate and fruitful communion with the Lord.
Saint John Chrysostom
Hom. on Mt 72
“Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you do, that do;1 but do not after their works.”
Then. When? When He had said these things, when He had stopped their mouths; when He had brought them that they should no more dare to tempt Him; when He had shown their state incurable.
And since He had made mention of “the Lord” and “my Lord,”2 He recurs again to the law. And yet the law said nothing of this kind, but, “The Lord thy God is one Lord.”2 But Scripture calls the whole Old Testament the law.
But these things He saith, showing by all thinks His full agreement with Him that begat Him. For if He were opposed, He would have said the opposite about the law; but now He commands so great reverence to be shown towards it, that, even when they that teach it are depraved, He charges them to hold to it. But here He is discoursing about their life and morals, since this was chiefly the cause of their unbelief, their depraved life, and the love of glory. To amend therefore His hearers; that which in the first place most contributes to salvation, not to despise our teachers, neither to rise up against our priests, this doth He command with superabundant earnestness. But He does not only command it, but also Himself doth it. For though they were depraved, He doth not depose them from their dignity; to them rendering their condemnation heavier, and to His disciples leaving no cloke for disobedience.
I mean, that lest any one should say, that because my teacher is bad, therefore am I become more remiss, He takes away even this pretext. So much at any rate did He establish their authority, although they were wicked men, as even after so heavy an accusation to say, “All whatsoever they command you to do, do.” For they speak not their own words, but God’s, what He appointed for laws by Moses. And mark how much honor He showed towards Moses, again showing His agreement with the Old Testament; since indeed even by this doth He make them objects of reverence. “For they sit,” He saith, “on Moses’ seat.” For because He was not able to make them out worthy of credit by their life, He doth it from the grounds that were open to Him, from their seat, and their succession from him. But when thou hearest all, do not understand all the law, as, for instance, the ordinances about meats, those about sacrifices, and the like for how was He to say so of these things, which He had taken away beforehand? but He meant all things that correct the moral principle, and amend the disposition, and agree with the laws of the New Testament, and suffer them not any more to be under the yoke of the law.
Wherefore then doth He give these things divine authority, not from the law of grace, but from Moses? Because it was not yet time, before the crucifixion, for these things to be plainly declared.
But to me He seems, in addition to what has been said, to be providing for another object, in saying these things. For since He was on the point of accusing them, that He might not seem in the sight of the foolish to set His heart on this authority of theirs, or for enmity to be doing these things, first He removed this thought, and having set himself clear from suspicion, then begins His accusation. And for what intent doth He convict them, and run out into a long discourse against them? To set the multitude on their guard, so that they might not fall into the same sins. For neither is dissuading like pointing out those that have offended; much as recommending what is right, is not like bringing forward those that have done well. For this cause also He is beforehand in saying, “Do not after their works.” For, lest they should suppose, because of their listening to them, they ought also to imitate them, He uses this means of correction, and makes what seems to be their dignity a charge against them. For what can be more wretched than a teacher, when the preservation of his disciples is, not to give heed to his life? So that what seemeth to be their dignity is a most heavy charge against them, when they are shown to live such a life, as they that imitate are ruined.
For this cause He also falls upon His accusations against them, but not for this only, but that He might show, that both their former unbelief wherewith they had not believed, and the crucifixion after this, which they dared to perpetrate, were not a charge against Him who was crucified and disbelieved, but against their perverseness.
But see whence He begins, and whence He aggravates His blame of them. “For they say,” He saith, and do not.” For every one is worthy of blame in transgressing the law, but especially he that bears the authority of teaching, for doubly and triply doth he deserve to be condemned. For one cause, because he transgresses; for another, that as he ought to amend others, and then halteth, he is worthy of a double punishment, because of his dignity; and in the third place, that he even corrupts the more, as committing such transgression in a teacher’s place.
And together with these He mentions also another charge against them, that they are harsh to those accountable to them.
“For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they will not move them with their finger.”3 He mentions here a twofold wickedness, their requiring great and extreme strictness of life, without any indulgence, from those over whom they rule, and their allowing to themselves great security; the opposite to which the truly good ruler ought to hold; in what concerns himself, to be an unpardoning and severe judge, but in the matters of those whom he rules, to be gentle and ready to make allowances; the contrary to which was the conduct of these men.
2. For such are all they who practice self-restraint in mere words, unpardoning and grievous to bear as having no experience of the difficulty in actions. And this itself too is no small fault, and in no ordinary way increases the former charge.
But do thou mark, I pray thee, how He aggravates this accusation also. For He did not say, “they cannot,” but, “they will not.” And He did not say, “to bear,” but, “to move with a finger,” that is, not even to come near them, nor to touch them.
But wherein are they earnest, and vigorous? In the things forbidden. For, “all their works they do,” He saith, “to be seen of men.”4 These things He saith, accusing them in respect of vainglory, which kind of thing was their ruin. For the things before were signs of harshness and remissness, but these of the mad desire of glory. This drew them off from God, this caused them to strive before other spectators, and ruined them. For whatever kind of spectators any one may have, since it hath become his study to please these, such also are the contests he exhibits And he that wrestles among the noble, such also are the conflicts he takes in hand, but he among the cold and supine, himself also becomes more remiss. For instance, hath any one a beholder that delights in ridicule? He himself too becomes a mover of ridicule, that he may delight the spectator: hath another one who is earnest minded, and practices self-government? He endeavors himself to be such as he is, since such is the disposition of him who praises him.
But see again that here too the charge is with aggravation. For neither is it that they do some things in this way, some in another way, but all things absolutely this way.
Then, having blamed them for vainglory, He shows that it is not even about great and necessary things they are vainglorious (for neither had they these, but were destitute of good works), but for things without warmth or worth, and such as were certain proofs of their baseness, the phylacteries, the borders; of their garments. “For they make broad their phylacteries,” He saith, “and enlarge the borders of their garments.”5
And what are these phylacteries, and these borders? Since they were continually forgetting God’s benefits, He commanded His marvelous works to be inscribed on little tablets, and that these should be suspended from their hands (wherefore also He said, “They shall be immoveable in thine eyes”),6 which they called phylacteries; as many of our women now wear Gospels hung from their necks. And in order that by another thing again they may be reminded, like as many often do, binding round their finger with a piece of linen or a thread, as being likely to forget, this God enjoined them as children to do, “to sew a ribbon of blue on their garments, upon the fringe that hung round their feet, that they might look at it, and remember the commandments;”7 and they were called “borders.”
In these things then they were diligent, making wide the strips of the tablets, and enlarging the borders of their garments; which was a sign of the most extreme vanity. For wherefore art thou vainglorious, and dost make these wide? What, is this thy good work? What cloth it profit thee at all, if thou gain not the good results from them. For God seeks not the enlarging of these and making them wide, but our remembering His benefits. But if for almsgiving and prayer, although they be attended with labor, and be good deeds on our parts, we must not seek vainglory, how dost thou, O Jew, pride thyself in these things, which most of all convict thy remissness.
But they not in these only, but in other little things, suffered from this disease.
For, “they love,” He saith, “the uppermost rooms8 at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi.”9 For these things, although one may think them small, yet are they a cause of great evils. These things have overthrown both cities and churches.
And it comes upon me now even to weep, when I hear of the first seats, and the greetings, and consider how many ills were hence engendered to the churches of God, which it is not necessary to publish to you now; nay rather as many as are aged men do not even need to learn these things from us.10
But mark thou, I pray thee, how vainglory prevailed; when they were commanded not to be vainglorious, even in the synagogues, where they had entered to discipline others.
For to have this feeling at feasts, to howsoever great a degree, doth not seem to be so dreadful a thing; although even there the teachers ought to be held in reverence, and not in the church only, but everywhere. And like as a man, wherever he may appear, is manifestly distinguished from the brutes; so also ought the teacher, both speaking and holding his peace, and dining, and doing whatever it may be, to be distinguished as well by his gait, as by his look, and by his garb, and by all things generally. But they were on every account objects of ridicule, and in every respect disgraced themselves, making it their study to follow what they ought to flee. For they love them, it is said; but if the loving them be a matter of blame, what a thing must the doing them be; and to hunt and strive after them, how great an evil.
The other things then He carried no further than to accuse them, as being small and trifling, and as though His disciples needed not at all to be corrected about these matters; but what was a cause of all the evils, even ambition, and the violent seizing of the teacher’s chair, this He brings forward, and corrects with diligence, touching this vehemently and earnestly charging them.
For what saith He? “Bat be not ye called Rabbi.” Then follows the cause also; “For one is your master, and all ye are brethren;”11 and one hath nothing more than another, in respect of his knowing nothing from himself. Wherefore Paul also saith, “For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers?”12 He said not masters. And again, “Call not, father,”13 not that they should not call, but they may know whom they ought to call Father, in the highest sense. For like as the master is not a master principally; so neither is the father. For He is cause of all, both of the masters, and of the fathers.
And again He adds, “Neither be ye called guides, for one is your guide, even Christ;”14 and He said not, I. For like as above He said, “What think ye of Christ?”15 and He said not, “of me,” so here too.
1 [The Greek text in this clause differs somewhat both from the received and from that followed in the R. V.—R.]
2 [kurivou kai; kurivou, referring to the two uses of the word in the Old Testament passage cited in Mt 22,44, but not in precise terms.—R.]
3 Dt 6, 4.
4 Mt 23, 4, Mt 437
5 Mt 23, 5.
6 Dt 6, 8 so LXX. A. V. “as frontlets between.”
7 Nab 15, 38-39. [The passage is freely given from the LXX.]
8 [R. V. “the chief place.”]
9 With the oldest New Testament Mss. the word “Rabbi” is not repeated.—R.]
10 This passage has afforded grounds for a conjecture as to the date of the Homily, but the language
is too general to prove anything; see Montfaucon’s Preface).
11 Mt 23, 8.
12 1Co 3, 5.
13 Mt 23, 9.
14 Mt 23, 10. [The word kaqhghthv” is rendered “Master” in our English versions, but “guide” is more literal; “the Christ” (R. V). is preferable, especially in view of the context here.—R.]