Daily Reflection
October 31st, 1999
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

The Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
Matthew 23:1-12

The prophet Malachi, in today's first reading in the Eucharistic liturgy, speaks to the priests of the covenant.  "Have we all not the one father?  Has not the one God created us?  Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?"

When we were small children, we would take a deep, but quiet, delight when one of our siblings would get scolded by our parents; rejoicing that we were not, or at least not yet.  The theme of the first and third readings centers around the followers of the covenant, being call to serve rather than be served.  The priests of God's "chosen People" had turned away from gentle guidance of the people.  They have exalted themselves and the prophet's words are meant to return them to their proper size.

Jesus has similar words addressed to His followers and to the crowds.  The religious leaders of His time, also had not been gentle and men of service.  They preached, but didn't practice.  They loved titles, esteem, power and prestige.  Jesus simply lays out His way, which He Himself lived to the end.  "The greatest among you must be your servant."

We have heard this theme before, but it still sound so un-American, so psychologically perverse, so wishy-washy-weak.  Paul puts it in other words, writing years later, "We were gentle among you as a nursing mother cares for her children."  He has worked tirelessly among his first converts and he is not boasting about that, but gives thanks that what he preached was taken as the "word of God".

Rather than being scolded-children, we are reminded of our dignity as servants.  Ours is not a dignity which is put on like a winner's jacket today and removed tomorrow to be given to an other more worthy recipient.  Titles, fame, places of honor are all cobweb-thick and paper-cup precious.  There is a force inside each of us which slides us towards these gossamer-glimmerings, and so we need to hear this theme again and again.  The final words of the Gospel are not a curse, but a simple truism, those who exalt themselves will be reduced by their unrealistic drama.  Those who accept their real selves, truthfully, will be raised to their proper play in the lives of others.  Jesus is not scolding us, but reforming our images of our selves.

If we exalt ourselves, then we must defend our pretense with violent posturing.  If we gracefully accept ourselves, then gently we make His presence real in our simplicity.  The pretentious life is not worth noticing, though notice is its sustenance.  The grateful-life is worthy of the grace it "speaks and spells."

The "Word of God" about which Paul writes, is the preaching having been heard and the living of that Word.  Jesus came to live and be lived.  He came to serve and to have that service extended into our lives and through our lives into the lives of His sisters and brothers.  We are now, reduced by His word, to the dignity of being His word, still serving, still being as real as ever He was.

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