Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A


Michael H. Bielecki, O.S.A.
Saint Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Mal 1: 14b-2: 2b, 8-10
Ps 131: 1, 2, 3
1 Thes 2: 7b-9, 13
Mt 23: 1-12

A quick glance at today’s first reading and gospel could lead us to declare this Sunday: Clergy Depreciation Day.

These readings offer profiles of ministry. Not all of these profiles are for our imitation, as you probably noticed. They are more a listing of what not to do, how not to act.

They indicate that failure on the part of those called to serve God’s people is nothing new, yet failures are always tragic and have such far reaching effects, even many years later. This is evident in light of the scandals of recent years.

God’s word today affirms that God’s people have a right to have expectations about their ministers. Those expectations, however, should not be unrealistic ones.

The prophet Malachi chastises the priests of his day for not listening and taking to heart that their service is to give glory to God. His criticism was not unjustified as he was setting realizable expectations before the priests. These priests had turned aside from the way of the Lord and had led others astray.

And Jesus is no less severe in his criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus calls them hypocrites, which is translated: “actors.” They put on a show, but were very inauthentic. They gave clear directions about the road to take, but they weren’t at all attentive to traveling down that road themselves.

Jesus wisely recommends that we listen to them, but not follow their example. Even worse, they burdened others with obligations, while they did nothing to help the burdened.

In today’s second reading, Paul gives a positive picture of what it means to serve God’s people. He says it means being as gentle as a nursing mother. It means sharing not only the words of the Gospel, but one’s very life. It means challenging others, but causing no unnecessary burden to others. Paul embodied the vision that he preached.

Paul writes that the Thessalonians have received not a human word, but the Word of God, which is now at work in those who believe. The preaching of God’s word has the power to transform a community. That preaching takes root in us, and if heeded, can change those who hear it and even transform the preacher if he is attentive to the need for continual conversion in his/her own life.

All of us are called to preach the gospel message by reason of our baptism. That means we must first of all be good listeners of the Word. The proclamation of the Gospel of God should transform the preacher first. Otherwise there will be no credibility. Blessed Paul VI said, “People would rather see a sermon, than listen to one.” St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach always, when necessary use words.”

Paul offers us a positive profile of an authentic minister as a gentle, affectionate, self-giving, loving and hardworking messenger of the Gospel. Both Paul and Jesus serve as models of authentic ministry.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word could be good news for all of us if we heard it as a prophetic call that would bring about the true humility that is necessary for change to happen. If we respond to God’s grace, and are transformed by the word of God, we would all then be a sign of real hope to the transforming power of the Word of God. It would prove that we are truly receiving the word of God, not as human word, but as the word of God.