Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A
Addressing the people and the disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.
‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’
The people listening to Jesus must have felt a thrill of recognition when he described perfectly the scribes and Pharisees who lorded it over the ordinary people. Jesus exposed their hypocrisy, which probably no one else had dared to do because these were powerful people.
The scribes and Pharisees inflated their importance because at heart they believed they were better than other people. They probably also believed that their importance meant they could be excused from the rules and burdens they imposed on others.
Self-aggrandisement is not attractive and in our society people have many subtle ways of dealing with those who promote their own importance. That is probably good. What is not so good is when those ways of dealing with self-aggrandisement are applied to those in our society who are genuine “tall poppies”, those people with extraordinary talents and gifts. They may be quite humble in what they do and they may have done some extraordinary things, but suffer attack by others who resent seeing anyone shine.
Deflating the egos of the self-important with a subtle humorous comment may be ok. It is not ok to attack genuinely talented, creative and accomplished people (especially children) simply because their light shines more brightly than ours.
And if we have become afraid to give the fullness of our gifts to others and to society, for fear of being attacked or “cut down to size”, then listening to Jesus whose gifts were always under attack, is very important. Praying for humility and the courage to be the person God created us to be is essential.
If we hide our gifts for fear of others then, ironically, we become like the scribes and Pharisees, because we attempt to be someone other than the person God made us to be.