God's Word on Sunday: The faithful carry the weight to glorify God

  • November 3, 2023

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time  (Year A) Nov. 5 (Malachi 1:14-2:2. 8-10; Psalm 131; 1Thessalonians 2: 7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12) 

Why would God be concerned with people giving glory to His name? Does God need any additional glory?

It is best to put ourselves in the sandals of the people in the time in which Malachi was written. What did glory mean to them? The Hebrew word for glory is kabod, which means weight — power, authority and authenticity. We even speak of a person’s words carrying weight or of dealing with weighty matters.

For the Israelites, leading a life of fidelity to the covenant and the demands of justice and mercy was the way by which they glorified God. This added to the glory of the divine name, giving it additional authority and credibility, hopefully even causing God’s name to be praised among the Gentiles.

God’s condemnation was not primarily directed at the nation or the people but at the priests — those responsible for the spiritual state of the nation. Adherence to the ways of God had ceased to be a concern for them. They had given the people improper instruction and had corrupted the covenant of Levi by their dereliction of duty and their corruption. Now they would suffer the consequences.

The charge to lead and instruct spiritually is not a job but a sacred calling. When it is done without care, commitment and purity of purpose, it detracts from the glory of God’s name and brings discredit on all, as everyone is painted with the same brush. We are all presently experiencing this as the disgrace of a few has become the disgrace of all.

The passage ends with poignant words — if we all have one God and one Father, why are we so faithless and cruel with one another? These words can and should be asked today, even as our world comes unravelled. At the root of our distress is the illusion that we are separate from one another and from God.  

Paul is a fine example of one who leads spiritually with his whole heart and soul. His concern and love for his community is so intense that he uses a feminine metaphor — a nurse caring for her children — to describe his interaction with them. He hints that he can come on strong and be demanding at times, but he strives to treat them with tenderness. Because of this, the word of God that he delivered to them came across as authentic and those to whom he preached accepted it eagerly. Paul was definitely walking the talk. They accepted it as the word of God, and it was shown to be so by the transformation that it brought about among them.  

Jesus was unsparing in His criticism of the ruling religious elite, but His words are equally applicable in our own time and situation. They did not practise what they preached — a common failing for us all but it is especially egregious when the guilty are religious leaders. One of the most serious charges was that they lay burdens upon others while not lifting a finger to help them. And then there was the hunger for honour, respect and adulation.

Although originally spoken about the Pharisees, these accusations also describe the sins of the Church over the last two millennia. Jesus gives them the remedy for this spiritual affliction: do not put anyone on a pedestal and do not heap undue marks of respect and privilege on them.

We are all equal — brothers and sisters — and we are all in this together. No one is our father except our Father in Heaven. Leave behind a hierarchical or exclusive mode of thinking. Jesus is our sole instructor but only if we give Him the chance. We should not turn to others to govern our lives but rely on our personal relationship with Jesus. And finally, humble and loving service is the new definition of greatness — the only definition.

Why have the clear and insistent words of Jesus been so studiously ignored by many over the centuries? Sometimes more attention is paid to things that the Lord never mentioned. This is puzzling since humility and equality are at the very core of Christ-centred living. They are expressions of love and a mirror of the Lord Jesus. As we face the turmoil in the Church, we need look no further than these words for the solution.