Everyone is equal in the eyes of God

  • October 18, 2011

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oct. 30 (Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12)

The prophets of Israel — the genuine prophets — were never afraid to speak truth to power. Malachi addressed the religious elite as a spokesman for God and called them to task for dereliction of duty. They were raised to their positions of authority to shepherd the people and to be spiritual guides. They were to keep the covenant with God pure. But human greed, selfishness and lust for power had all taken their toll.

And what was the major failing? It is something that runs throughout the Old Testament and into the pages of the New Testament — partiality. This meant tailoring both their instruction and their governance to favour the rich and powerful. Equality and justice were essential elements of Israel’s covenant with God. In addition to ritual and purity regulations there were numerous laws protecting the poor and the vulnerable, both Israelite and dweller in the land. The question at the end of the passage says it all: Have we not all one Father and Creator? There is not one God for the elite and another for the common folk. God shows absolutely no partiality and has no regard for our wealth, power or station in life.

The great sin is summed up in the plaintive question, “Why then are we faithless to one another?” The first victims in an unjust society and corrupt religion are truth, honesty and trust. Relationships are irrevocably damaged and the sense of God’s presence can seem distant. The Church scandals of the last decade have shaken the trust of many, especially since honesty, truth and concern for the people of God were so often lacking. Trust must be earned again for it is never simply a given. One of tools for rebuilding relationships among the people of God is to remember always that we are equal in God’s eyes. There are no privileged posts or stations and no free passes for anyone. We cannot profane our covenant with God by being faithless to one another.

God's Word on Sunday: Liturgy reflections from Year B
by Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.

This deep concern for one another and commitment to compassionate and just relationships is expressed well by Paul in his letter to the community at Thessalonika. Paul described his care for them in terms of gentleness and a maternal tenderness — not our usual image of Paul! This care and the tireless nature of his labours on their behalf were probably instrumental in their acceptance of Paul’s proclamation of the word of God. Kindness, integrity and gentleness are far more effective than bullying or threats.

Jesus was critiquing the religious establishment of His day but there is no reason to think that He would be any less critical of our own. Human nature is fairly constant and there are always those who gravitate towards positions of power and influence — whether in the political, social or religious spheres — for their own advantage and the satisfaction of their egos. But there is something far more serious in Jesus’ critique — laying burdens on others and not lifting a finger to help them. Authority is always for service — real service, not lip service — and anyone in authority must be well aware of his or her own humanity with all of its weaknesses. Office never puts one in a separate class above ordinary people. We are all fellow pilgrims and must support one another along the way always acutely conscious of our own need for grace and mercy.

Jesus’ warning against calling anyone rabbi, father or instructor is a difficult saying, especially considering the way in which our own religious structures evolved. But it cannot be ignored just because it is difficult. We have to be humble enough to be challenged by the entire Word of God and not just focus on our favourite issues.

This passage is really a warning not to give away one’s heart, mind or soul to anyone. When people surrender their mind and will to authority figures, ideologies or institutions, the level of spiritual consciousness declines dramatically. We claim that we have a personal relationship with Jesus and that the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us. If that is so, then we need to turn within and allow ourselves to be guided by the Lord.

Being taught and guided by God is our spiritual birthright so let us treat it with the respect that it deserves.