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Sunday:       Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Date:         October 30, 2011
Year:         A
The readings: [Mal.1:14-2:2, 8-10; 1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13; Mt. 23:1-12]
The message:  Committed to sharing the love of God.
Total words:  1554

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** The readings follow the sermon.

Dear members of the Body of Christ, today I wish to share with all of you our Christian obligation to share the love of God with others. Today's First Reading was taken from the Book of Malachi [Mal. 1:14-2:2, 8-10]. This Book from the Old Testament begins with God expressing His Divine love for Israel. But as we have heard, God's love was not being returned to Him. Love is meant to be given and received. Can love be love when it is self-centered? Certainly not!

During the Reading, we heard how God was angry with Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, especially with the priests who had been offering defective animals as sacrifices. Rather than presenting the best of their animals as sacrifices to God, they offered the blind, the lame and the sick animals.

The priests were told how they had fallen from the grace of the Lord God. Not only had the priests offered secondary sacrifices to God, but they had also become sinful in their daily lives, walking away from the righteousness of the Lord. In their sinfulness, they had influenced others to turn to sin. By their acts, they had broken the agreement that God had made with them, He being their Father and they being His children.

It is clear from this Reading that when someone's spiritual life deteriorates, his family life also deteriorates. Spirituality and family life cannot be separated, one way being righteousness while the other is unrighteousness. Now as I said before, God was angry with His people. He was going to take away the blessings He had given them in the past if they did not turn from their sinful ways. In fact, He had already taken away the blessings of some. He was now going to make them become the scorn of other nations, abasing them before all.

Next, the people were reminded that they have one Father, one God who created them all. Since they all shared the one God, they were called to be united as one in order to belong to the family of God.

Reflecting on this Reading, we can learn something from it regarding our own lives. God calls us to let ourselves be build into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices. [1 Pet. 2:5] Each and everyone of us, having become God's children through faith in Jesus and the Sacrament of Baptism, now belong to the common priesthood. Accordingly, we are called to share the love of God. We are called to become living sacrifices that are pleasing to the eyes of God. Our living sacrifice is our way of life in the imitation of Christ. To walk away from God's righteousness as the people of the Old Testament did, is asking for God's wrath to fall upon us.

During today's Second Reading [1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13], we heard how Saint Paul and his companions were committed to sharing the love of God. Although as apostles of Christ they had made demands upon the people, they had done so with gentleness as nursing mothers. Their demands were not worldly. They did not ask for money or personal property to satisfy their own personal needs. Paul took care of his own needs as a tentmaker. [Acts 18:3] Through God's work, Paul and his companions gave themselves completely. Their self- sacrificing love as Apostle and minister of the word was more than nursing mothers. The demands that they made upon the Thessalonians were spiritual demands. It was for their own personal spiritual benefit and growth.

Resulting from the ministry of preaching the Gospel of Christ, a bond was built between Paul, his companions and the Thessalonians. They had become as biological brothers and sisters to one another.

At the end of today's Second Reading, Paul gave thanks to God to the fact that when the Thessalonians received the Word of God from them, they did not take it as the word of men. Rather, they accepted it as it truly was, the Word of God Himself. Now, the Word that they had heard was at work in them.

During today's Gospel Reading, [Mt. 23:1-12] we heard how Jesus denounced the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus began by stating that the scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses' seat, this meaning that they had the authority to teach the Law. As such, the people were required to obey the Law. Jesus was not attacking the Law but the scribes and the Pharisees who's teachings were not in harmony with their practice. They did not practice what they were preaching to the others.

Jesus had two complaints, the harshness in which the scribes explained the Law to the people and the conceit and hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. When they explained the Law, the scribes would ignore the humane interpretation of it. While they commanded others to obey the Law without any deviation from it, they themselves were not doing it. Everything they did, it was to be seen.

They made their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. Phylacteries were small boxes that contained parchment on which was written the text of Exodus 13:1-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and 11:13-21. They fastened these to their left wrist and to their forehead in such a way so that they would hang in front of their eyes. This gave the appearance that their eyes were always set on the Laws of God. Then, on the four corners of their cloak, they wore tassels in observance of Numbers 15:38-9 as reminders of the Law. The bigger these were, the better impression it gave that they had a great devotion.

Jesus continued to condemn the scribes and Pharisees for seeking the places of honour at feasts and in the synagogues. They loved to be greeted in the marketplaces. In those days, politeness demanded that the length of one's greeting correspond to the dignity of the person. By dressing as one who maintained a great devotion, the individual would draw longer greetings.

Having said this, Jesus condemned them for using the titles of rabbi, father and instructor. They should not be called rabbi because they have one teacher, they being student. No one should be called father for they have one Father in Heaven. And they are not to be called instructor for the one instructor is the Messiah.

Based on this passage, some have taken it out of context and said that no one is allowed to be called father, not even the priests. First of all, in context with Jesus' condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, while they sought to be called father, their actions fell short of coming close to what is expected of a spiritual father to the people. They did not deserve such a title.

Jesus did not condemn others from calling some people fathers. In fact, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul referred to himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthians. "For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." [1 Cor. 4:15] Had the word father been condemned for everybody, surely, Paul would never have used it.

Jesus finished His message by saying that the greatest is the one who is the servant. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who are humble will be exalted. In other words, one should wait until such time as God grants him a place of honour. He should not be creating his own place of honour.

As you can see, the scribes and the Pharisees were not committed to sharing the love of God. They applied self-love! What did self-love get them? It received criticism from Jesus who is the Word of God. For us Christians to be committed to sharing the love of God, we must do the opposite of what the scribes and the Pharisees were doing. We must be humble! We must serve others! We must not draw attention to our prayer lives in order to receive worldly praise.

"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." [Mt. 6:5-6]

Having said this, I ask you all to prayerfully reflect this week on how you have committed your lives to sharing the love of God. Is there room for improvement? Is there a lack of sharing the love of God? Is the sharing of God's love too public, too self-seeking? Ask yourself how Jesus would judge your commitment to share God's love if He was present before you. And while doing so, I ask you all to pray for all of us so that we may all grow in the grace of God to become as shining lights in the world.

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The readings...

[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]

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First Reading...

"'I am a great King,' says the Lord of hosts, 'and my name is reverenced among the nations.

And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name,' says the Lord of hosts, 'then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.

You have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,' says the Lord of hosts, 'and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?'" [Mal. 1:14b-2:2, 8-10]

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Second Reading...

"Though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ, we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in your believers." [1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13]

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Gospel Reading...

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' chair; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

But you are not be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father - the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted." [Mt. 23:1-12]

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