NOTE ON THE USE OF THIS COMMENTARY

Whenever a specific window is used it will be printed in italics and underlined.

When we ponder the Scriptures prayerfully we no longer feel alone. We have the unshakeable certainty that someone is speaking to us, someone in seeking us and someone is standing by our side, and we are given new strength and encouragement through the presence of the Risen Lord.

NOTE
As you wrestle with today’s reading you will soon realise the need to concentrate on just one part of the text. There is just too much here to handle during one time of reading, reflection and responding (prayer). Take only part each day for your prayer.

PRAYER before praying Scripture.

YOUR WORD is near, O Lord our God. Your grace is near. Come to us then, with mildness and power. Do not let us be deaf to you, but make us receptive and open to Jesus Christ your son, who will come to look for us and save us today and every day for ever and ever.

Let us now read this Sunday’s Good News

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
YEAR 1;     Matthew 23: 1 – 12

Handle – What is the context of today’s passage?

To get a clearer understanding of this next it is necessary to be aware of what comes before and what follows it.
22: 15 The Pharisees seek to trap him over the payment of taxes.
22: 23  The Sadducees seek to trap him on matters concerning the resurrection.
22: 37  Once again the Pharisees challenge him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as your self.”

23: 13  The seven woes to the scribes and Pharisees.

Biblical level.

At first glance we are inclined to read this as a condemnation of a group of people two thousand years ago. Indeed the majority of the Pharisees were good people. We need to look elsewhere in order to understand the purpose of this text.
The literary genre used here is a catechetical text.   The “Pharisee” is a typical figure. It represents a way of behaving contrary to the Gospel. The purpose is to force us to reflect on our own lives to discover if we are behaving like “Pharisees” or not.

Handle – The text can be divided in several ways. Here is one way.

1Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples,
Jesus is speaking to the people who are seeking to be in a relationship with him.
He is also addressing those who have committed themselves to live their lives according to Jesus way of life.

2saying, “The Scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Deut 18: 15, 18 states that the prophets are Moses’ successors. The fault here is replacing the prophetic message with precepts and laws. They call “word of God” things that are only human prescriptions and arguments.

3Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.
Our lives should be authentic. Our teaching should be reflected in our way of living. Do we lead by example.

4They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
Have we replaced the joy and freedom, that should characterise our serving God and humanity, with the burden of guilt and countless rules and regulations. Paul says, “Be under obligation to no one .. the only obligation you have is to love one another.” (Rom 13: 8)

5All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6They love places of honour at banquets, and seats of honour in synagogues, 7greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi’.
Are we sure that we do not parade our good deeds for others to see?

8As for you do not be called ‘Rabbi’. You have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 10Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.
There is no room for first and second class citizens in the kingdom of God. We are warned not to create inequalities in our Christian community.

11The greatest of you must be your servant. 12Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“You shall love your neighbour as your self.” (22: 39)
This call to service of others which links directly with the “greatest” commandment. 1

Qualities of God          By reflecting on the virtues opposite to these errors we become aware of the qualities of our God.


There is a second way of approaching today’s gospel. Read it once more and see how would divide it. Give each section a title that clearly indicates the meaning of the passage to you.

Here is my division.

1Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, 2saying, “The Scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. Lead by example
4You tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but you will not lift a finger to move them. 5All your works are performed to be seen. You widen your phylacteries and lengthen your tassels. 6You love places of honour at banquets, and seats of honour in synagogues, 7greetings in market places, and the salutation ‘Rabbi’. Using authority
8As for you do not be called ‘Rabbi’. You have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 (you) Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 10(you)Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. Self respect
11The greatest of you must be your servant. 12 Call to serve

Note that I have changed “They” to you and then marked the repetition.
How does this influence your reading of the text?

There are three levels at which you can read today’s reading:

The scene in Jesus’ life.
How it applied to Mathew’s community.
It applies to YOU today; how do you identify with each group? (crowd, disciples, Pharisees, Matthew’s community)   Use your imagination.

In our reading, reflection and response (prayer) we must also be conscious of the group addressed and how we identify with them.

Are we self-righteous?
Feel the indignation of Jesus.

As we reflect on our own lives:

Do not allow ourselves to be oppressed or feel oppressed.
Be aware of how Jesus helps us to freedom and dignity.
Be aware how fearlessly Jesus confronts wrong-doing.
Be aware that we too are being challenged by Jesus / The Word.
Be aware of how Jesus trusted and believed in the common people, us.

V 1 – 3                        Memory           Recall the memory of a “Jesus” who freed us from dependency on others.

V 4 – 7            Memory           Can we remember an occasion when we recognised a fault within ourselves     and changed (repented)?

V 8 – 10          This passage has been crucially important for the development of our church’s wonderful teaching on the primacy of the individual conscience.2
Give thanks for all those who have been Jesus for our time.

V 11                This is story of grace.

Memory           We celebrate “great people” who have taught us by word and example.

V 12                Memory           Is this true to or life experience?
Think of people – our parents, grandparents, teachers – who were just ordinary and then we came to realise how thoroughly GOOD they were.

As we get to know Jesus better we are called to examine our values as compared to his!

Acknowledgements

  1. Armellini, F; Celebrating the Word, Year A
  2. De Verteuil M; Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels, Year A