Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Seeking the praise of people - Today's Lent reflection

FIRST READING  (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20)
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

GOSPEL READING (Matthew 23:1-12)
At that time: Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Who doesn’t want to be admired and honoured by others? God, however, sees us truly as we are – beggars and sinners in need of his constant grace and mercy. Jesus chided the scribes and Pharisees for seeking the praise of others by drawing attention to their showy religious practices. To read the rest of this reflection, click HERE.

Today Jesus is being very critical of the Pharisees and the scribes. He tells his listeners that they should observe the teachings of the Pharisees. He has no problem with their teaching. The teachings are O.K. But Jesus also tells his listeners that they shouldn't follow the EXAMPLE of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were great teachers of the law. In fact, many of them were highly principled. However, there was one problem that can easily become the besetting sin of "officials" in any religious tradition. Some of the Pharisees we meet in the New Testament are those who use their teaching to exercise authority over others, but they don't apply that teaching in its original sense to their own lives and the formation of their own character. They bind up ordinary people with many laws, and torture them with extra complicated rules and regulations. They insist that their disciples and students do everything they say. Jesus points out that they themselves conspicuously fail to practice what they preach, even in the most basic matters. Then he says that what many of them really love is sitting in the places of honour and being called “Rabbi”, "Father" and "Teacher." These particular leaders are so filled with a sense of their own importance that, when they go to the synagogue or to a banquet, they automatically take the best seats available. They seem to value their religious position purely for the regard and respect, the esteem, the awe, and the perks it gives them.  

That's why Jesus questions their motivation. Are they simply manipulators for their own pride, or are they sincerely and deeply spiritual? If they are they close to God, why don't they walk their talk? 

Jesus tells HIS disciples that in contrast THEIR role is to serve others — not to BE served. Of course, he says, they are to follow the Jewish laws and even the customs the Pharisees teach. But they are not follow the Pharisees’ example. Jesus wants his disciples to be genuinely humble people. 

As Christians, we know how much we are loved by God, and that he intends us to live by the law of love. We are to care for our neighbour and all around us who are in need (even if we don't particularly like some of them). Today's clergy, religious, evangelisits, and even church bureaucrats, need to examine our personal motivations. Why do we do what we do? Is it so that others will think we are holier than we are? Is it a way of exercising power over other people? Or is it because we have a passion to serve the Lord and draw others into his love by helping to free them from the burdens that crush them?  

Much of the time our ministry will be made up of small daily tasks or actions. So, the REAL gift for which we should pray is the gift of being able to notice the other person's need, and then for the courage to reach out in loving, sensitive care and support. Today let us pray for open eyes and open hearts. Let us ask the Lord to cleanse us from all selfish or impure motives behind our ministry.  (Based on a meditation by Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau OSB, from the Dome Blog)

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church
with they perpetual mercy;
and, because the frailty of man without thee
cannot but fall,
keep us ever by thy help
from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable
to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Post a Comment