A reading from the prophecy of Malachi
(Chapter 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10)
Jewish and Christian scholars have various opinions about the identity of the author of this book. It is widely believed that “Malachi” is not a personal name but rather a pseudonym, and many believe that the author was Ezra, who was active in the fifth century before the birth of Jesus. At any rate, the message in this passage is clear, and it resonates with us these many years later, because of the scandals that have beset our own priesthood but also because of corruption on the part of anyone who seeks or accepts a position of leadership. Personal corruption and dishonesty is bad enough, but when it is practiced by those who hold themselves up as leaders, it is doubly offensive. We shouldn’t exempt ourselves from this warning, even if we don’t hold formal positions of authority. We are leaders in other more subtle ways, within our families, at work, in the community, in the parish. We should always be conscious of how our behavior affects others, as well as how it squares with the law of God.
(Psalm 131:1, 2, 3)
“I busy not myself with great things, nor with things too sublime for me.” The psalmist, assumed to be David, is not recommending that we not do important work or pursue learning. The essence of his message is “my heart is not proud,” meaning that he will always submit himself to God’s will and not be diverted by personal ambition, especially ambition for the praise of others.
A reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians
(Chapter 2:7b-9, 13)
We might not be surprised if we somehow learned that Paul had read today’s psalm before writing this passage. Paul believed that humility was essential to his ministry, and he worked hard at achieving it. In that sense as in others, he is a model for us, because we all are called to minister to each other, spiritually and materially, and to do so without any pride or arrogance. Like Jesus himself, Paul wanted to convey God’s word to the world without ever becoming a part of the message. And we, while we may like being thanked for our service to others, must avoid the notion that we, rather than our good deeds in God’s name, are important.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
The theme—humility—continues. Jesus criticizes individuals among the scribes and Pharisees who love the status and trappings of their positions in the religious community more than they love the opportunity to serve others. On the contrary, Jesus says, some religious leaders use their positions to impose pointless and unreasonable burdens on the Jewish people. Worst of all, perhaps, “they preach but they do not practice.” As much as we do not want to see these traits in our religious leaders, we do not want to find them in ourselves. Self-importance and hypocrisy are foreign to the mind of Jesus whether it occurs in prominent people or in anyone else. The lesson applies to all human interactions. We all can take this to heart: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Image: The Christ Pantocrator, St. Catherine's Monastery at Sinai, a 6th-century encaustic icon.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved.
Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Metuchen and managing editor at RENEW International.