Holding Firm To The Message Of Eternal Life
Readings: 1st: Mal 1, 14-2, 2-10; Ps 130 2nd: 1Thess 2, 7-13, 5-11; Gos: Matt 23, 1-12
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, del Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today being the 31st Sunday of ordinary time year A we are reminded of the need to hold firm to the message of eternal life. This is what guarantees and safeguards our faith. Derailing from it or belittling it has its attendant consequences. On the other hand, if we abide by it we are rest assured that God will continue to strengthen us.
Once, as I passed by a nursery school I observed a piece of art work that was actually meant to teach the kids the right manner of behavior while on the road. This painting had on it, two kids (a boy and a girl) walking and playing on the road in their school uniform. The instructions originally, and (as I suppose should be), was: “Do not play on the road!” However and unfortunately, at a closer look at this instruction, I discovered that it has been mutilated or tampered with. So instead, it now reads: “—-Play on the road!” This attracted my attention and I went closer to confirm what I saw, only to discover that someone, maybe a nasty child, or even a mischievous adult (I cannot tell for sure), actually erased the “Do not” phrase which actually helped the entire sentence to make the right sense. Hence, rather than be the message of good will, protection and live, it has become an instruction that leads to destruction. Instead of being a good news instructing or directing children to towards the part of life, it is now leading whoever among the kids that would read and obey it to death. God Forbid! This is exactly what happens when we toil with the message of eternal life, when instead of employing it positively, we employ it negatively for our own selfish gains or motives as some of us priests, pastors, religious, and Christians who are the Pharisees of our time do.
In our first reading today, God spoke through his oracle prophet Malachi warning us especially priests, religious and Christians about the dangers of straying from the right part, as well as misleading and oppressing others in the name of the God: “…And now priests, this is a warning for you…you have strayed from the way and you have caused many to stumble by your teaching, you have destroyed the covenant of Levi says the Lord of Host….” While it is important to note that this message is meant as it were for “Priest” and all “Pastors of souls”, it is equally important to note that by virtue of our baptismal priesthood, God is equally speaking to each and every Christians. The reason for this is quite simple, we are all expected to bear the message of eternal life as well as give glory to God. Therefore, it is a call to lead and teach rightly the message of eternal life, a call to live rightly, to be just and most importantly to glorify God our creator.
In the second reading, Paul recounts with thanks to God how he faithfully transmitted the undiluted message of eternal life to the church of Thessalonica. He did it carefully and with utmost precision, making sure that he passed on the right message to them. He writes thus: “Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt so devoted and protected towards you…we were eager to hand over to you not only the good news but our whole lives…while we were bringing the good news to you.” In order words, Paul and his companions were faithful pastors contrary to the category the prophet Malachi warned sternly. Rather than mislead or exploit the people, these great priests and pastors of souls employed their whole energy in communicating the message of eternal life to the people. From this therefore, we must learn that once the message of eternal life or the good news is effectively communicated it bears good fruits and in turn evokes a very deep sense of thankfulness to God. This is Paul’s source of joy and thankfulness to God: “Another reason to thank God is that, as soon as you heard the message we brought, you accepted it as God’s message and not something human.” Kudos also to the Thessalonians who unlike most of us today did not take the message of eternal life for granted. They accepted it for what it is without cajoling or belittling it. Again, the reason is simple! The priests and Pastors who preached and lead them to this message of eternal life brought it with faith, sincerity, honesty and dedication. They revered and honored the message and so, it was received with honor and reverence as well.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus equally warns us not to follow the hypocritical way of life of the Pharisees of our time (“men” and “women of God” of our age), who in spite of their exalted position in our churches live bad examples. They preach well but act badly. They are very eloquent and tall in their preaching, sermons, and homilies, but they are dwarfs and pigmies in their actions. What an irony! These men and women of God thwart the message of eternal life for their own gain and thus lead many astray. These are deadly wolves in sheep clothing. It is also important to look inwards in this regard, because, as Christians each one of us is a potential man and woman of God as well as a potential Pharisee. How could this be, you ask? If we live contrary to the faith we profess in Jesus Christ we are being Pharisees and thwarting the message of eternal life or the good news. Of course, we do this every day. When we live this way, we are showing people the wrong way and preaching the worst of homilies for which posterity will not forget and possibly forgive us because, we are not are not being true to, or holding on to the message of eternal life.
Finally, today Jesus denounces “show-off-religion” which has no life and in fact, is opposed to the message of eternal life. It is however, very important also, not to misunderstand Jesus’ message about being called or calling anyone “Rabbi” or “Father.” What Jesus is denouncing here is earthly pride which is opposed to the message of eternal life he preached. He in no way permits us to disrespect authorities or to insult those in position by calling them derogatory names instead of giving them the honor that is due to them. Such behavior would equally, run contrary to the messages of eternal life which say: “Honor your father and mother,” (Ex 20, 12); “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Heb 13, 17); and finally, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity (1Tim 2, 2). Jesus simply wants us to be true to the message of eternal life. It must rule and direct our lives. It must not pop us up or make us proud. It must not be employed as a tool to oppress or mislead others. Rather, it must give God glory because, in this, lies the message of eternal life.
Peace be with you all!!