Readings: Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12
Today’s Gospel may not be about priests but it’s certainly intimidating for a Roman Catholic priest to preach. I made sure I wore no tassels today.
Our Reading from Malachi does address priests and I recognize the same symptoms of clericalism today. In the Gospel, Jesus addresses a lay movement, the Pharisees, which arose because the priestly establishment, and the Jewish monarchy, had lost so much credibility.
Jesus says that the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. In Biblical terms, that means they exercise the prophetic function in Judaism, as opposed to the priestly or royal function. In fact that’s what the Pharisees claim about themselves in their own writings. And Jesus recognizes their authority: do what they say but don’t act as they do.
What should I not do?
So much of Jesus’ teaching in previous Sundays has been driving home the point that I can’t earn God’s favor. Grace isn’t the reward for my own righteousness. Redemption isn’t God’s approval of my strengths, but God meeting me in my neediness.
That said, in this discipleship, there are some things I can only earn, that I don’t inherit. Respect, for example. It’s not my function that merits respect; I can only earn that respect from how I treat you, from how conscientiously I perform my responsibilities.
None of us are flawless, but I can still strive to treat you fairly and justly. If I don’t conduct my duties with dignity, I’ll throw away the dignity of my office. I see too much of that in our political arena today.
I can’t earn heaven or God.
But I can only earn your respect or I won’t have it at all.