Matthew 23:1-12
Charity is the Difference 
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA

Reprinted with permission of The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

The Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not life a finger to move them. 

All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'  As for you , do not be called 'Rabbi.'  You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.  Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.  Do not be called 'Master' you have but one master, the Messiah.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings.  You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

I remember with great clarity after many years a high school math teacher who was quite severe with her teaching methods. She taught a difficult class and expected a great deal out of us, but did not offer any real or significant assistance. She was quick to call you out when she could see on your face that you did not know the answer to a particular question. She made you painfully stay at the chalkboard in front of the class fumbling through the proper application of a difficult formula and becoming rather embarrassed. She never gave you partial credit for a good beginning on the solution to a complicated math problem. If the final answer was wrong, the whole problem was wrong. It was a discouraging class and did not engender a great love for math.

On the other hand, I remember a different experience with a homiletics professor in the seminary. Again, the class was difficult and the teacher expected a great deal out of us. More significantly, the skill set we were trying to develop was immensely important for our life as a priest. The professor was dedicated to offering constructive criticism. He was quick to point out natural skills such as annunciating properly or finding appropriate stories to explain a confusing Gospel passage. He was willing to challenge us to develop new skills -- keeping the message simple and clear, and learning the importance of tireless preparation. This professor was willing to read over first drafts of homilies in advance, and then to make detailed and constructive comments afterward. This professor demanded excellence and truly honed our skills in preparation for the very important task of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus criticizes some of the scribes and Pharisees who exercised their authority and their teaching ministry such as my high school teacher. “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”

In reality, most of us exercise authority over some people in our lives, whether it is in school as an upperclassman or student leader, in the home as a parent or older sibling, in the workplace as an experienced employee or a supervisor, or as a friend with certain friends who are sick or going through a dark moment.

As Christians, Jesus invites us to ponder how we exercise our leadership. Our Lord challenges us to exercise authority with humility and charity.

In fact, Jesus goes so far as to call us to be servants in our relations with one another. “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the end, charity, as always, is the difference. When we have become keenly aware of God’s amazing, unearned love for us, and when our hearts are on fire with a corresponding love for God, then charity spills over into every aspect of our lives. Charity governs all the moments and dimensions of our lives where we exercise authority over others in God’s name.

St. Paul, while discussing his efforts to bring the Good News to the Thessalonian community, speaks rather frankly of his deep care and affection for the flock. “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”

When those around us know that we genuinely care for them, they are most willing to accept a challenge from us to consider making a change in their lives or to consider getting to know a person named Jesus who has made all the difference in the world to us. Conversely, when people are, in fact, dear to us, we are much more likely to “lift a finger” to assist them in their efforts to solve a problem, accomplish a needed task, or make a change in their lives.

“The greatest among you must be your servant.”

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