31 Sunday A: Practising what we Preach



Gospel text: Matthew 23:1-12


Michel DeVerteuil

General Comments
Today’s gospel passage contains several different teachings, each of them very deep and relevant to us today, and each expressed in its own imaginative language. Since they are all so special it might be better to focus on each one individually  although we may come to see a common thread running through them all.

Another point to note is that the teachings are addressed to two different groups:
– the “scribes and Pharisees” on the one hand,
– the “people and his disciples” on the other.
In fact the focus shifts so that it is now one group that is being addressed and now the other. In our meditation we need to be conscious of the group being addressed and of how we identify  with each.


The Pharisees are those in authority who adopt false values. A good meditation on them will avoid two errors – self-righteousness on the one hand, playing down the evil of what they do, on the other. We avoid self-righteousness by recognising something of ourselves in them (even if in a reduced way); we feel the evil of their ways by entering into Jesus’ indignation.

  • The “people” are us when we let ourselves be oppressed by others and some Jesus helps us to discover our freedom and dignity
In either case we celebrate Jesus, the great teacher and leader:– he is fearless in confronting the scribes and Pharisees, reminding us of times when we have been challenged by people, events or institutions – perhaps a Biblical word;
– he believes in the common people and is deeply respectful of them – a wonderful model for community leaders, catechists and spiritual guides. A model too for the Church community in our time.


Textual Comments
Verses 1 to 3 are addressed to the common people. Jesus reassures them – they must not let themselves be awed by those in authority who do not practice the noble things they proclaim.
We remember times when we allowed ourselves to be overawed by others because:
– they were better educated,
– they belonged to a higher social class, to an ethnic group, culture or religion with a higher status,
– they were more “respectable” in the eyes of our Church community, neighbourhood, society.
Then some Jesus came into our lives (as individuals, Church community or culture) and freed us from this dependency. We saw that those we had placed on a pedestal were flawed like all human beings and we felt liberated.
Verses 4 to 7 are addressed to those in authority.
Verse 4 speaks of their tendency to hand down laws without compassion. We think of
– church leaders unwilling to spend time counselling pregnant girls but condemning them when they have an abortion,
– education (including religious education) as handing down information rather than consciousness raising.
Verses 5 to 7 speak of the Pharisees’ desire for external signs of honour. “External signs” for us will include the different ways (including subconscious ones) in which we look for approval from our peers or from the wider community. This is a defect we can observe in the Church as well.
We read these verses from two points of view:
– remembering moments of grace when we or our community became conscious of these faults in ourselves,
– celebrating Jesus people who brought us to this consciousness. We think of the  great men and women, in
our time and in history, who have challenged the structures of our organisation – including the church.

Verses 8 to 10 return to the common folk, reminding them of their right to be guided by conscience. This passage has been crucially important for the development of our church’s wonderful teaching on the primacy of the individual conscience.
We celebrate the great theologians who have courageously upheld this teaching in the face of authoritarian tendencies in the Church, e.g. Cardinal Newman, Bernard Haering, Hans Kung. They have been Jesus for our time.
Verses 11 and 12 (returning to those in authority) can stand on their own but we can also read them in the light of the previous teachings;
– vs. 11 is a commandment, but we must avoid all moralising and read it as a story of grace – Jesus bringing good news. In Jesus we celebrate “great people” – teachers, leaders, spiritual guides – who taught us by word and example to reject the arrogance of authority figures (the “Scribes and Pharisees” of our community) and who put themselves at the service of all;
– vs. 12 is a factual observation which we are invited to recognise from our experience. It raises two possibilities:
* very gifted people “exalted themselves” and ended up “humbled” – looked down on by those who formerly admired them. Here again we must be careful to avoid self-righteousness. A sign that we have done so is that we feel very great sadness at the memory. What a pity!
* truly great people “humbled themselves” and were “exalted”, they gave themselves in humble service and are now widely admired. Some have made the passage on the world stage, e.g. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day;  others in the context of our daily lives, e.g. parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbours.
We must not move too quickly to the second stage but spend time remembering (celebrating) the years of frustration. Our overall response must be from the heart – what a privilege to have known people like that!
The saying is a powerful reminder of how life brings surprises; it invites us to celebrate the Jesus who prepared us for this. It is also a call to the Church to speak its prophetic word, warning our culture of how false its values are.
* * *
Prayer reflection
“A seemingly powerless person who dares to cry out the word of truth and to stand behind it with all his person and his life has surprisingly greater power, though formally disenfranchised, than do thousands of anonymous voters.”…President Havel of Czechoslovakia, speaking when he was living under the communist regime.

Lord, we thank you for those who live under tyrannical regimes
and keep up the spirits of fellow citizens, telling them, like Jesus,
that they have to obey those who occupy the chair of authority,
and do what they say,
but they must be guided by their own values,
and not the values of those who preach lofty principles and do not practice them.
Lord, we who hold positions of authority in the Church
wear garments that attract attention;
we are always given places of honour at banquets
and front seats in places of worship;
people often greet us obsequiously in market places
and give us titles of honour.
Preserve us, Lord, from setting store on all these things;
remind us that the greatest thing in our lives
is to be at the service of your people.
“I shall not fear anyone on earth. I shall fear only God.I shall bear ill will towards no one. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.”…Gandhi

Lord, there are times when people in authority hold us in bondage.
We are terrified of displeasing them, whatever they say is Bible truth to us.
Then you send a Jesus person into our lives who teaches us about our own dignity
– that we have only one Master and all men and women are brothers and sisters to us;
– that we have only one Father, and he is in Heaven; only one teacher, the Christ.
Thank you, Lord.
“The important thing for a woman soldier to remember is not to show weakness. We wouldn’t give men that satisfaction.”…A woman officer in the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force
Lord, in our culture no one wants to appear weak.
We pray that in our Church communities there may be no great honour
for those who pretend to be strong when they are not,
and that those who admit to being vulnerable may be respected.
Lord, we thank you for the various Centres that have been set up in our Church
to care for unwed mothers.
They are a sign that we do not merely call for obedience to your laws
but help people to bear their burdens.
 “Power comes from the people, but no sooner is that power acquired than those who got the power begin to isolate themselves from people.”…Cesar Chavez
Lord, have mercy on us who are in authority in the Church, in the State, in families.
How easy it is for us to hand down commandments,
tying up heavy burdens and laying them on the shoulders of those in our charge,
but never lifting a finger to move those burdens.
“It is when I am weak that I am strong.”…2 Corinthians 12:10
Lord, we can always recognize a moment of grace.
It is one when we realise how we had been exalting ourselves
and now feel ennobled in our lowliness.
“Our fear is that a reinforced Europe may choose for its conscience the law of the strongest,  the law of militarism, the old law of colonialism and of discrimination because of class, race and sex.”…Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women, July 1990
Lord, we pray for the followers of Jesus who are building the new Europe,
that they may consider it the highest honour in life to be servants of the oppressed;
that among them self exaltation  will be held in low esteem
while those who humble themselves will be exalted.

****************************************************************

Donal Neary SJ
Love thy neighbour

We are often asking what the essence of our religion might be. Some people think of the different rules or what religion gives importance to. Jesus is quite clear when he is asked about the essence of religion: it is ‘to love God and love your neighbour’. Anything else about our religion flows from this.
We hear it so often that we may get tired of it. When Jesus quoted it for the people he spoke to, they recited it a few times every day. It’s like humming a favourite song; these are words to bring us life.
We wonder how we can grow in fulfilling this, or in appreciating it. Our memory is an important source of inspiration. Can you remember times when you loved your neighbour – people near and far, occasions when you know you were doing something out of love? We think of family examples with our children and the elderly where we gave time when they were in need. Times when we volunteered to improve the standard of life in our area, or gave time as a volunteer abroad. Memory is a way of finding energy horn this command.
Another inspiration is the life of Jesus: he was one whose whole life was loving God his Father and the neighbour. Read the gospel of Mark and just watch how his love goes out to so many people, especially the ones like the leprosy patients and the foreigner that others would ignore.
This is the way of life of these commandments! The love and care of the neighbour is a sign of our love for God.

****************************************************************
Donal Neary SJ

Love thy neighbour

We are often asking what the essence of our religion might be. Some people think of the different rules or what religion gives importance to. Jesus is quite clear when he is asked about the essence of religion: it is ‘to love God and love your neighbour’. Anything else about our religion flows from this.
We hear it so often that we may get tired of it. When Jesus quoted it for the people he spoke to, they recited it a few times every day. It’s like humming a favourite song; these are words to bring us life.
We wonder how we can grow in fulfilling this, or in appreciating it. Our memory is an important source of inspiration. Can you remember times when you loved your neighbour – people near and far, occasions when you know you were doing something out of love? We think of family examples with our children and the elderly where we gave time when they were in need. Times when we volunteered to improve the standard of life in our area, or gave time as a volunteer abroad. Memory is a way of finding energy horn this command.


Another inspiration is the life of Jesus: he was one whose whole life was loving God his Father and the neighbour. Read the gospel of Mark and just watch how his love goes out to so many people, especially the ones like the leprosy patients and the foreigner that others would ignore.
This is the way of life of these commandments! The love and care of the neighbour is a sign of our love for God.

****
Illustrations:

 From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) Elephantine shock therapy. The story has been told of a lion who was very proud. He decided to take a walk one day to demonstrate his mastery over all the other creatures.  He strutted his way through the forest until he came across a bear. “WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE, BEAR?”  “Why of course you are, mighty lion.”  He went on until he found the tiger. “WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE, TIGER?”  ‘Why you are, great lion.”  Next the lion found the elephant. “WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE, ELEPHANT?”  The elephant instantly grabbed the lion with his trunk and spun him around a few times and slammed him to the ground.  He then stepped on him a few times, picked him up and dunked him in the water and then threw him up against a tree.  The lion staggered to his feet and said, “LOOK, JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER, YOU DON’T HAVE TO GET SO UPSET!’  The lion was the one who wasn’t getting it.  He was missing the truth, just as were many of the scribes and Pharisees and Jewish priests to whom Jesus gives an elephantine shock treatment in today’s Gospel.  

2) “First President of the U. S. to lose a war.” People do crazy things out of pride. One of the people whose reputation is being somewhat enhanced by the changes in the Soviet Union is Nikita Khrushchev. Some of us remember Khrushchev simply as the man who pounded his shoe on the table at the United Nations and said, "We will bury you." Actually, Khrushchev was a reformer and a relatively responsible man. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev was advised by his military experts to confront the United States. These advisors felt that the biggest tragedy would not be a nuclear confrontation but rather a perception by the Chinese or the Albanians that they were weak. Fortunately, Khrushchev did not listen to them. He called them maniacs and said, "What good would it have done me in the last hour of my life to know that, though our great nation and the United States were in complete ruins, the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?" Contrast his attitude with that of a former President of the U. S.  who, during the Vietnam War, was determined not to be the first President of the U. S. to lose a war. We don't know how many lives were lost because of that attitude. Pride can be a deadly emotion, and it is not the sole possession of those at the top of society. In today’s Gospel, Jesus criticizes the proud Pharisees.


3) Acquired situational narcissism. Someone in our day who has a prideful self-centeredness, we say, has the disease of Narcissism.  The name comes from Greek mythology and refers to a handsome young man, Narcissus, a proud hunter. He was the son of the River God Cephissus and the nymph Liroipe and was known for his physical beauty. Narcissus was arrogant and scorned those who loved him. His conduct offended Nemesis (the goddess who punished evil deeds, overweening pride and undeserved good fortune). She drew the young man to a clear pool where he saw and fell in love with the beauty of the one he saw reflected there. He was obsessed with the image he saw, neither ate nor drank, and finally died (From Wikipedia: Narcissus, Nemesis). Both the prophet Malachi in the first reading and Jesus in today’s Gospel react strongly against such narcissism among the religious leaders of their times.  Even though most of our religious leaders will never be at risk for getting Acquired Situational Narcissism, they, too, have the temptation to become overly self-involved.  They, too, sometimes imagine minor-league celebrity status for themselves and become prima donnas in the office or at Church or in pubic places.  Today’s Scriptures have a strong warning for them.

4) A horrible mistake: “Father, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help.  I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation.  I know I ought not to think that, but I can’t help it.  I want you to help me with it."  The pastor replied, "Mary, don’t worry about it.  In your case it’s not a sin.  It’s just a horrible mistake."   

5) Big grasshoppers: On a vacation to Australia, a Texas farmer meets an Aussie farmer and starts talking to him about his farm.  The Aussie takes him to see his big wheat field, but the Texan isn’t impressed.  "We have wheat fields that are twice as large as this one," he told the Aussie.  The Aussie farmer drives him around the ranch and shows off his big herd of cattle.  "Oh, our longhorns are at least twice as big as these," the Texan bragged.  The Aussie farmer is getting frustrated, when the Texan suddenly notices a herd of kangaroos hopping across a field.  "What on earth are those?" he asks.  The Aussie turns to him with a mischievous smile. "Don’t you have any big grasshoppers like this in Texas?"  


6) “You and I both know you ain’t."   When Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency by the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his closest friend Sam Rayburn took him aside.  "From here on out, you’re going to have lots of people around you.  They’ll try to put up a wall around you and cut you off from any ideas but theirs.  They’ll tell you what a great man you are, Harry.  But you and I both know you ain’t."   

7) "Yankee, that ain’t nothin.”  A Texas rancher met up with a Wisconsin dairy farmer.  The two men began talking about their land and the milkman told the cattleman that he operated his business on 125 acres.  The Texan scoffed at such a small parcel of land.  He said, "Yankee, that ain’t nothin’.  On my ranch I can get in my truck at sunrise and I won’t reach the fence line of my property until sunset."  The dairy farmer snorted, "Yeah, I used to have an old truck like that."

8) “You don’t need a life jacket.”  A sailor once took a group of young people boating for the day.  One young man bragged the whole way about all he knew about the sea.  Every time the sailor began to give instructions this young man would interrupt with his supposed knowledge.  After some time, a squall blew up.  The sailor began to hand out lifejackets.  “Where’s mine?” cried the know-it-all.  “Don’t worry son,” replied the old sailor.  “You don’t need a life jacket.  With a head as full of hot air as yours, you will float forever!”  
 

****

20-Additional anecdotes: 

1) "Okay, now give me the names of the pilot and copilot."
A man, returning from a business trip, was met at the airport gate by his wife. They walked from the gate together and were standing waiting for the baggage to be unloaded. An extremely attractive stewardess walked by. Suddenly, the man came to life. Beaming, he said to the stewardess, "I hope we can fly together again, Miss Jones." "How come you know her name?" his wife asked suspiciously. The man replied smoothly, "You see, my dear, her name was posted right up front in the plane, under the names of the pilot and co-pilot." To which the wife replied, "Okay, now give me the names of the pilot and copilot." The man's hypocrisy was uncovered. Jesus criticizes hypocrisy in today’s Gospel.

 2) “Just get me a battleship then.”
American Humorist Robert Benchley was leaving an elegant salon one evening. As usual he had imbibed excessively. He found himself face to face with a uniformed man whom he took to be the doorman. "Would you get me a taxi, my good man?" he requested. The uniformed man drew himself up proudly. "See here, I happen to be a rear admiral in the United States Navy." Benchley said belligerently, "Just get me a battleship then." In Benchley's condition, the plumage of the admiralty was no different from that of a doorman. Uniforms are important to us, aren't they? Listen as Jesus describes the uniforms of the Pharisees: They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues (Mt 23: 5-6). 

3) "And also with you!" An Army Major was attending a military ball at a fancy hotel and made the mistake of standing by the entrance in his formal dress mess uniform.  An arriving guest thought this officer was the doorman and handed him his bags! We sometimes order God around, forgetting that He’s the Master, and we live for Him.  But God chooses to correct us occasionally as He did one Lutheran pastor who always started each service with "The Lord be with you."  The people would respond, "And also with you.”  But, one Sunday he thought the PA system wasn’t working when he tried it, so the first thing he said was, "There’s something wrong with this thing!”  The people responded, "And also with you!" 
 
3) Greatness of humble people: In 1884 a young man died.  After the funeral, his grieving parents decided to establish a memorial to him.  With that in mind they met with Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University.  Eliot received the unpretentious couple into his office and asked them what he could do.  After they expressed their desire to fund a memorial, Eliot impatiently said, "Perhaps you have in mind a scholarship."  "We were thinking of something more substantial than that... perhaps a building," the woman replied.  In a patronizing tone, Eliot brushed aside the idea as being too expensive and the couple departed.  The next year, Eliot learned that this plain pair had gone elsewhere and established a memorial named Leland Stanford Junior University, better known today as Stanford.  They gave $26 million dollars!
 
4)  Human stubbornness: In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia.  Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below.  News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident.  It wasn’t a technology problem like radar malfunction or even thick fog.  The cause was human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby.  Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other.  Each was too proud to yield first.  By the time they came to their senses, it was too late.
 
5) Nobody likes hypocrites. When two prominent evangelists were revealed to have indulged in certain sexual sins a couple years back, the hue and cry was widespread. It was not that they were the only persons in our society who have committed such sins. In fact, polls indicate that the majority of Americans have indulged at some time or another in illicit moral behavior. The outcry was rather over their hypocrisy. They preached one thing and practiced another.

 
Recently, there has been a minor hubbub over the Sierra Club. Officials of this important force in the environmental movement have recently admitted that they don't use recycled paper in their lushly illustrated nature calendars. Why not? They say that photographs do not reproduce well on recycled stock. Two Denver area club branches, calling that stance hypocritical, have stopped selling the annual fundraising calendars, and a state chapter official warns a "real revolt" is possible among members statewide. "As a group, we can't walk one way and talk another way," said Michael Reis, a spokesman for another branch. "How can we take a hard stand in promoting recycling when our own group doesn't use recycled paper?" Other branches are being equally vocal. The Sierra Club faces some hard choices. There is one sin that the American public will not forgive and that is hypocrisy. That does not mean, however, that the American public cannot be guilty of hypocrisy.
 
6) Angry peacock or ugly duck? Carlton Van Ornum tells this story. A large crowd of people gathered near an enclosure in the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston as a peacock slowly spread his great tail and displayed its stunning plumage. The great bird stood erect and noble and strutted regally. Just then an old, dun-colored duck waddled slowly from the pond and passed between the proud peacock and the admiring crowd. Enraged, the peacock drove the duck back to the water. In a moment, the beautiful bird had become ugly with fierce anger. The plain and awkward duck, having returned to its natural habitat, was no longer unbecoming. In the water it swam and dived gracefully, unaware that many eyes were watching. The people who had admired the peacock loved the duck. Each of us was reminded of the dangers of pride, and that happiness comes from just being ourselves.      
 
7) Mosquito or honey bee: If you think a mosquito is small and has little influence, try sleeping in a hot room at night with but a single blood-sucking insect. Its high-pitched whine and sharp proboscis can leave you sleepy, itchy, and furious. On the other hand, consider the lowly honeybee. One single winged creature lurching from flower to flower can make the heart leap for joy as it brightens your day, spreads pollen about, and makes honey in the hive. We mortals, not unlike mosquitoes and honeybees, have our own influence. We can be the bane of a room or the blessing of a family. Here in the text, Jesus talks about it all with a group of religious leaders of his own day.
 
8) I am going to vote for? I am reminded of a story about Theodore Roosevelt. During one of his political campaigns, a delegation called on him at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The President met them with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. "Ah, gentlemen," he said, "come down to the barn and we will talk while I do some work." At the barn, Roosevelt picked up a pitchfork and looked around for the hay. Then he called out, "John, where's all the hay?" "Sorry, sir," John called down from the hayloft. "I ain't had time to toss it back down again after you pitched it up while the Iowa folks were here." This is hypocrisy. As we go to the polls next time I know whom I am going to vote for. Let me tell you, I am going to vote hypocrisy out of office and humility in. I am going to vote greatness out and servanthood in. I am going to vote public honors out and duty in. That's whom I am going to vote for, and I wish it were that simple. Truth is, leadership, the way Jesus described it, is hard to find, even among the religious.
 

9) “All my life I've been a nobody.
During the classic time of Greece a terrible thing happened in one of the temples. One night the statue of Zeus was mysteriously smashed and desecrated. A tremendous uproar arose among the inhabitants. They feared the vengeance of the gods. The town crier walked the city streets commanding the criminal to appear without delay before the Elders to receive his just punishment. The perpetrator naturally had no desire to give himself up. In fact, a week later another statue of a god was destroyed. Now the people suspected that a madman was loose. Guards were posted. At last their vigilance was rewarded; the culprit was caught. He was asked, "Do you know what fate awaits you?" "Yes," he answered, almost cheerfully. "Death." Aren't you afraid to die?" "Yes, I am." he answered. "Then why did you commit a crime which you knew was punishable by death?" they asked. The man swallowed hard and then answered, "I am a nobody. All my life I've been a nobody. I've never done anything to distinguish myself and I knew I never would. I wanted to do something to make people notice me...and remember me." (1) The need to be recognized, to be appreciated, to have people know your name can carry a tragic price tag.

 10) Honest leadership needed:
In Washington, the standards that the Democrats set for the Republicans, they themselves are not willing to live by. And the standards that the Republicans set for the Democrats, they themselves are not willing to live by. Why? Because if you let down your guard for one moment and admit that you are wrong, your political opponents will seize the moment and go for the kill. I am reminded of a story about England's Prince Philip who was toasted at a banquet once with four lines from the poet John Dryden:

“A man so various that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome.
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long.”

I don't know who that person was who quoted that poem to Prince Philip, but he sure got his point across. Washington needs a prophet like that, to step up and expose the abuse, the hypocrisy, the buffoonery. Jesus was that prophet in his day. He demanded honest leadership. Jesus was saying that leaders must guard against hypocrisy and aim toward humility, set aside greatness and strive for servanthood, wait for public honors and act now out of duty. Jesus reminded the Pharisees and Scribes, leaders of the people, that they had to practice what they had preached.

 11) The proud scientist:
There was once a scientist who discovered the art of cloning himself so perfectly that it was impossible to tell the reproduction from the original. One day, he learned that the Angel of Death was searching for him, so he produced a dozen copies of himself. The angel was at a loss to know which of the thirteen specimens before him was the scientist, so he left them all alone and returned to Heaven. But not for long, for being an expert in human nature, the angel came up with a clever device. He said to the scientist and the 12 reproductions before him, "Sir, you must be a genius to have succeeded in making such perfect reproductions of yourself. However, I have discovered a flaw in your work, just one tiny little flaw." The offended scientist immediately jumped out from among his clones and shouted, "Impossible. Where is the flaw?" "Right here," said the angel as he picked up the scientist from among the reproductions and carried him off. [Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1990)]. You will find proud people in every profession and in every Faith. 

12) But he looks good: 
In a May 2002 issue of Us Weekly, a celebrity magazine, model Marcus Schenkenberg claims that he often gets paid $5,000 a night just to hang around top nightclubs and look good. The nightclub owners reason that Schenkenberg's good looks will draw in customers. (Us Weekly, April 29-May 6, 2002, p. 53). Is Marcus Schenkenberg a young man of character, intelligence, or great talent? We don't know. But he looks good, and in our society that's all that matters. In today’s Gospel, Jesus has very harsh words for pious-looking  and status-seeking Pharisees.

13) Proud officer:

A newly-commissioned colonel had just moved into his office. A private entered with a tool box. To impress the private, the colonel said "Be with you in a moment, soldier! I just got a call as you were knocking." Picking up the phone, the colonel said "General, it's you! How can I help you?" A dramatic pause followed. Then the colonel said "No problem. I'll phone Washington, and speak to the President about it." Putting down the phone, the colonel said to the private "Now, what can I do for you?" The private shuffled his feet, and said sheepishly, "Oh, just a little thing, sir. They sent me to hook up your phone!”


14) "Shut up, you fool:
A clergyman had reached the end of his rope, and he decided that he was swimming against the tide trying to get any response from his congregation. He decided to try some other way of life that might give him a greater personal satisfaction. He was very disappointed to discover that a job was hard to come by. In fact, he got to the point that he was prepared to take any job at all that came his way. At last, he landed a job in the local zoo. Unfortunately, when he went there, the job was not exactly available just yet, but the manager asked him to consider taking a temporary job, until the other one was vacant. As it happened the chimpanzee had died, and had not yet been replaced. The chimp was a great favorite with the children, and the cage could not be left empty for long. They had a chimp suit, and the man was asked if he would mind getting into the suit, and taking the place of the chimp. All he'd have to do was to roll around a few times, eat a banana, go back in the back for a rest, etc. He decided to give it a go. He was an instant success. The children gathered around his cage. Every moment he made was greeted with cheers. He soon discovered that he was now getting much more attention than he ever got in the pulpit. One day, he decided to really get into the act. He jumped up, grabbed an over-head bar, and began to swing to and fro, to the delighted screams of the children. The cameras were flashing, and the crowd was gathering, so he got carried away with himself, and he really began to swing with full gusto. Unfortunately, after one huge effort, his hands (paws?) slipped, and he went flying over the partition into the cage next door. A huge tiger approached, and, forgetting that he was supposed to be a chimp, he screamed "Help! Help,!" to which the tiger whispered sharply, "Shut up, you fool; I'm a minister, too!"

15)I am God’s Man!”
During the Second World War, I had something to do with a canteen which was run for the troops in the town in which I was working. Early in the war, we had billeted with us in the town a number of Polish troops who had escaped from Poland. Among them there was a Polish airman. When he could be persuaded to talk, he would tell the story of a series of hair-raising escapes. He would tell of how, somehow, he had escaped from Poland, how, somehow, he tramped his way across Europe, how, somehow, he had crossed the Channel, how he had been shot down in his airplane once and crashed on another occasion. He always concluded the story of his encounter with the same awe-stricken sentence: “I am God’s man!” In today’s Gospel Jesus criticizes such God’s men. William Barclay (L/17)

 16) The Lesson of a lifetime:
A monk was dispatched from one monastery to another as abbot. When the unknown abbot quietly arrived at his new destination unannounced, the holy monks checked out his humble person and unimpressive demeanor. They immediately sent him to work in their kitchen at the most menial tasks. Uncomplainingly, their new abbot spent long hours scouring pots, washing floors, and shelling beans. Finally, the bishop of the diocese arrived at the monastery. When he could not find the long overdue abbot, he went on a search. Of course, he found him in the kitchen, preparing the night’s supper. When he officially presented him to the monks in their chapel, they received a lesson in humility, which would last them a lifetime. William Barclay (Fr. Botelho). 

17) Seeking recognition rather than service:
The coronation of the Austrian emperors used to take place in the Cathedral of St. Steven in Vienna. But before the emperor designate was allowed to enter the cathedral for his coronation there was one ritual he had to undertake. As he approached the gates of the cathedral he would find them locked. Then the emperor was obliged to knock at the door to gain entrance. Upon hearing the knock on the door, a priest asks from inside the church, “Who is it that desires entrance here?” “His apostolic majesty, the emperor!” calls the guard. “I don’t know him.” answers the priest. A second knock follows and a similar question is asked. This time the guard announces: “The highest emperor”. Again, “I don’t know him” comes out through the locked door. Finally, a third knock is heard. “Who is it?” asks the priest. This time the emperor himself answers: “A poor sinner, your brother, requests admittance!” “Permission is granted: enter sinner. You are known to us.” Then the door is opened, and the royal coronation takes place. John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’ (Fr. Botelho). 

18) Life matching our performance:
Helen Hayes is still recognized as the ‘First Lady of the Theatre’. She was a long-standing member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, won Academy Awards in 1932 and 1970, and was named “Woman of the Year” in 1973 by ‘Ladies Home Journal’ but, besides her professional successes, Helen Hayes was noted for her humanitarian services. When her only daughter Mary died of polio in 1949 at the age of 19, Helen Hayes began helping the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis with her fund-raising. After her husband Charles MacArthur died in 1956, Helen Hayes got involved in helping Fr. William Wasson with his Mexican infants in Cuernavaca. During the Civil Rights Movement she played a part in the desegregation of theatres in the Washington D.C. area. In 1980 a new hospital was dedicated in her name on her 80th birthday in appreciation for her 40 years of volunteer service at the old facility. At the dedication the New York Governor Hugh Carey said: “In her work for the handicapped Helen Hayes has acted out measure for measure one of her most moving performances in the quiet dedicated service of her fellow human beings.” Albert Cylwicki, in ‘His Word Resounds’ (Fr. Botelho).

 19) Humility in Action: One of the best stories of humility I know is that of a man who arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute. He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter, "That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking. "We've been given a great task - to live in harmony, to weep with the mournful, to laugh with the joyful, to not be conceited. Especially, we are called to be righteous, but not self-righteous. We are to be humble. (Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality).

 20) Admired the Peacock, but Loved the Duck: Carlton Van Ornum tells this story. A large crowd of people gathered near an enclosure in the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston as a peacock slowly spread his great tail and displayed its stunning plumage. The great bird stood erect and noble and strutted regally. Just then an old, dun-colored duck waddled slowly from the pond and passed between the proud peacock and the admiring crowd. Enraged, the peacock drove the duck back to the water. In a moment, the beautiful bird had become ugly with fierce anger. The plain and awkward duck, having returned to its natural habitat, was no longer unbecoming. In the water it swam and dived gracefully, unaware that many eyes were watching. The people who had admired the peacock loved the duck. Each of us was reminded of the dangers of pride, and that happiness comes from just being ourselves. In today’s gospel, Jesus gives a strong warning to the proud Pharisees. (Jerry L. Schmalenberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Company).
*****
Jack Mc Ardle
Central Theme

Today’s gospel is a head-on attack on the religious leaders, who preach one thing, and practise something else. Jesus shows them up as phoneys who try to impress others by external show, while, within, they are far from being what they pretend to be.
Parable
With the growth in global communication has come the spot­light that penetrates into every corner, so that it is getting in­creasingly difficult to conceal, or to suppress scandals. We see that in our Tribunals of Enquiry, where pillars of society, who were telling us to tighten our belts, have been exposed as lining their pockets with millions. All of the recent dictators, who have been ousted, have been exposed as having bled the country’s economy dry, as they stashed billions in other countries. Something similar has been exposed in the church, when some of those who thumped the pulpit and told us how to live our lives, have been exposed as people who themselves were living double lives.
 
StoryOne day the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing him just how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what could be considered a very poor family. On their return from the trip, the father asked his son, ‘How was the trip?’ ‘It was great, dad.’ ‘Did you see how poor people can be?’ ‘Oh yeah!’, said the son. ‘So what did you learn from the trip?’ 

The son answered, ‘I saw that we have one dog, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We have walls around our property to protect us, but they have friends to protect them.’ With this, the boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, ‘Thanks, dad, for showing me how poor we are.’

There is a vast difference between being wealthy and being rich. When I have genuine gratitude for what I have, I may begin discovering the richness of others.

**********
1.     From Father James Gilhooley

 The boss was in his new office. An employee walked in. The boss picked up the phone and started an imaginary conversation flattering himself. He signaled the worker he'd be with him shortly. The employee said, "Take your time, boss. I'm here to hook up your phone." "A proud heart," wrote Ben Franklin, "is like a crooked fence.  

 All the paint in the world won't straighten it." The problem of pride was as bothersome to the early Church as it is to ours. Mark and Luke touch upon pride as well as today's Matthew. No century corners the market on pride. Can anyone even remotely imagine a proud Christ? Yet, He had much to be proud about. What disciple does Jesus seek?  

 A monk was sent to an abbey as abbot. He arrived at the abbey. From his dress, the monks judged him inferior. They sent him to their kitchen. Their new abbot spent weeks scouring pots and shelling beans. The bishop arrived. When he could not find the abbot, he went on a search. He found him in the kitchen preparing supper. He presented him to the monks in chapel. They had received a lifetime lesson in humility. The abbot is the man whom the Teacher wants. (William Barclay)  
 The proud, we are told, pray on Sunday and PREY on those about them on Monday. Rather, pray with God on Sunday and walk with Him on Monday. The abbot reminds us when we think we are humble, we are not. Many of us even have a nasty habit of being proud of our humility. We become legends in our minds. We go to church to find out what our neighbors should do to lead better lives. He that is proud, said Shakespeare, eats himself up. Pride, says the Bible, goeth before the fall. In Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," Alice found a mushroom. When she ate one side of the mushroom, she found herself getting smaller. When she ate the other side, she got taller. Of the two situations, Alice decided smaller was better. For, as she was reduced in size, all things and people about her looked more wonderful. Less, she discovered, can be more. Small can be beautiful.  

 Walt Whitman ate the correct side of the mushroom, for he wrote, "As for me, I know nothing else but miracles." We are forever circling that same mushroom. If we allow ourselves the portion that makes us larger, everything else about us will lack wonder. We will become puffed up with our worth. Critics will put us down as studies in pomposity. We will develop in ourselves the very faults which we detest in others. The proud, says the savant, detest pride in others.  

 A man was awarded a medal for his humility. Shortly he was stripped of it. He had begun to wear it proudly. Many of us have much in common with him. Two ambassadors walked on Paris' Champs Elysees. They were grieved. Though the Parisians had greeted them warmly, none had addressed them with their title, "Your Excellency." If proud, one becomes the character whom Peter Ustinov addresses in his play as "Your Altitude." We become like those who ask, "What will the world do without me when I'm gone?" Only those who permit themselves to grow smaller and smaller will be able to see "the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower." Not only will they bring themselves joy but also they will share that joy with others. They will be God's ambassadors. They will give pleasure to the Christ.  

 They will become the children which the Nazarene asked us to be. They will rush into the Kingdom laughing and singing "When the Saints Come Marching In." A US senator attends a weekly prayer group. At its end, while other participants rush to their jobs, the senator stays to stack chairs and clean up. And he is the highest ranking person there. Looking for a role model? But do not put off this thousand mile journey! Lewis Carroll must have had each of us in mind when he wrote in his other classic "Through the Looking-Glass": "It takes all the running you can do to stay in one place. If you want to get anywhere, you have to run twice as fast." A US president was working an old age home for votes while running for a second term. He said to an old man, "Do you know me?" The fellow said, "No, but if you ask the nurse, she'll tell you." No one, history tells us, has ever choked to death from swallowing his own pride. Can those, who really know themselves, afford to be proud? 

Fr. Jude Botelho 

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah begins with a feeling of deep depression almost forgetting what happiness could mean. This is man’s reaction in the face of death, or the prospect of isolation, want or chronic ill-health. Is this the end of it all? Then the prophet remembers what God has revealed of his mercy and he speaks words of hope as he describes final salvation and the joy of the chosen ones of God, who replied to the Lord’s invitation, in terms of a banquet. With the reawakening of faith comes the feeling of peace. The souls in purgatory have this peace as they wait in patience for the Lord’s coming and the fulfilment of his promise. What is certain is that He will come and bring his peace and consolation to all who await his coming. 

I Am God’s Man!

 During the Second World War I had something to do with a canteen which was run for the troops in the town in which I was working. Early in the way, we had billeted with us in the town a number of polish troops who had escaped from Poland. Among them there was a Polish airman. When he could be persuaded to talk, he would tell the story of a series of hair-raising escapes. He would tell of how somehow he had escaped from Poland, how somehow he tramped his way across Europe, how somehow he had crossed the Channel, how he had been shot down in his aero plane once and crashed on another occasion. He always concluded the story of his encounter with the same awe-stricken sentence: “I am God’s man!”

William Barclay

 In today’s gospel we see Jesus with his friends Martha and Mary as he goes to meet them on the occasion of receiving the news of the death of Lazarus. The narrative tells us that he did not immediately rush to Bethany on hearing this news, but went almost four days after Lazarus was dead and buried in the tomb. Why did he hesitate and delay? Did he not care for his friends? Could he not do anything for those who were in pain and loss? These are questions that come up in our mind not only about the family of Lazarus, but also each time we are confronted with the death of near and dear ones. When Martha and Mary hear that Jesus had finally arrived, their reactions were different. While Martha went out to meet him, Mary remained sitting inside the house. Martha immediately voices her hope in a plaintive voice: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” At the same time she expresses her faith in Jesus: “But I know even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.” Jesus responds to her faith by reassuring her, “Your brother will rise up again!” “I am the resurrection and the life!” –this statement of Jesus is the centre piece of this gospel on the raising of Lazarus. To believe in Jesus, Messiah and Son of God, is to have in oneself eternal life, which no physical death can overthrow. When we believe in the power of the Lord Jesus the impossible becomes possible, where there is death life is restored. This happened for Jesus after he died on the Cross submissive to the Father’s will, and the same happens to all who accept death as the will of the Father, who let his son die on the cross, and who allows us to suffer pain and even death. We cannot understand why this has to happen but we know that only through death do we reach the fullness of life. 

Be Not Afraid!

 I should like to read to you some passages of a letter from a man, Captain Scott of the Antarctic, written in the tent, where it was found long afterwards with his body and those of some other very gallant gentlemen, his comrades. The writing is in pencil, still quite clear, though towards the end some of the words trail away as into the great silence that was waiting for them. It began: “We are pegging out in a very comfortless spot, hoping that this letter may be found and sent to you. I write you a letter of farewell. I want you to think well of me and my end. Goodbye – I am not at all afraid of the end, but sad to miss many a simple pleasure which I had planned for the future in our long marches. We are in a desperate state –frozen feet etc., no fuel, and a long way from food, but it would do your heart good to be in our tent, to hear our songs and our cheery conversations…. We are very near the end…We did intend to finish ourselves when things proved like this, but we have decided to die naturally without.” - I think it might uplift you to stand for a moment by the tent and listen, as he says, to their songs and cheery conversation.

J.M. Barrie in ‘Quotes and Anecdotes’

Looking in the Mirror

 There is a story about a Jewish man who survived the concentration camps. The night after his liberation, he went to stay in a nearby house. There he found about thirty other survivors gathered in the room. Seeing a mirror on the wall, he went over to it. He was anxious to see what he looked like. But in the same mirror he saw the reflection of some other people as well. There were many faces in the mirror. And he could not tell which one belonged to him. He had to make faces and gestures, in order to be able to distinguish himself from the group. And when he did distinguish his own face, he got a terrible shock. Because the person he saw in the mirror was one he had never seen before. He was so changed that the person in the mirror didn’t bear any resemblance to the person he had seen before the war. A strange story but true.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

 The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away!

 There is a sacred story from the Jewish tradition which tells of a certain rabbi and his wife who had two sons to whom they were extremely devoted. One Sabbath morning while the rabbi was teaching the Law in the synagogue, both boys were struck by a sudden illness and died. The mother laid them out on a bed and covered them with a white sheet. When the rabbi came home for his meal and asked where the children were, the wife made some excuse and waited till the rabbi had eaten. She did not answer her husband’s question but instead asked one of him. “I am placed in a difficulty,” she said,” because some time ago a person entrusted to my care some possession of great value which he now asks me to give back. I am unsure of what to do. Am I obliged to return these great valuables to him?” “That you should need to put this question surprises me” the rabbi replied. “There can be no doubt about what you must do. How can you hesitate to restore to anyone what is his own?” The wife then rose from the table and asked the rabbi to follow her. She led him to the room where the two bodies lay and pulled back the sheet. “My sons, my sons,” groaned the father in pain. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,” said his wife through her tears. “Blessed be the name of the Lord. You have always taught me to restore without reluctance what has been lent to us for our happiness. We have to return our two sons to the God of all mercies.” –Like the Jewish women in the story, we are consoled by our faith in difficult times. Of course, faith does not banish our sense of loss, but it affirms the great truth that all life is a gift from God. Who we are is what we have been given. Death is not a door in the dark, but a dark door into the light.

Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the Heart’

One day a priest was preparing a group of children for the sacrament of Confirmation. He wanted to know how much the kids understood the Church’s teaching on Final Judgment. He asked one of the little boys, “What will God say on Judgment day to those who have led a very good life on earth?” Without any hesitation the boy replied, “Come and enter heaven and live with me.” The priest asked a second boy, “What will the Lord say to those who have lived a very bad life?” The boy said, “You cannot come to heaven. You will have to go to hell.” Then the priest went on: “Now what will God say to those who are not good enough to enter neither heaven at once nor bad enough to go to hell?” After a pause a little girl put up her hand and said, “God will say, I will be seeing you soon!”

Elias Dias in ‘Divine Stories for Families’

On Dad’s Shoulders

 In Kohima, Nagaland there is a War cemetery, where the allied soldiers who died during the War are buried. On the door of the Cemetery, it is written, “Tell them that we gave our today for your tomorrow.” Like the soldiers of World War II, the memory of our near and dear ones is a reminder that we need to be grateful to them because what we are today is mainly due to their efforts and sacrifices. A Scottish poet has written, “If I have done anything in life, it is because I was able to stand on the shoulders of my dad.”

Elias Dias in ‘Divine Stories for Families’

May we pray for those who have gone ahead of us on the way home!

****
Politicians in Washington play the gotcha game to perfection. To make matters worse the news media feeds on it. Not only do they feed on it, they feed it, hoping for a national scandal to make themselves appear relevant. These various political events are a fitting context for our scriptural text about hypocrisy.
 
Listen to what Jesus says about these politicians (in his day they were called Pharisees): "They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." Now what did Jesus mean? Simply this: The Pharisees made laws. They demanded that the common person follow those laws. But they themselves found ways to get around those laws. Get it? They were not willing to carry the heavy loads they demanded everyone else carry. In a word: Hypocrisy.
 
In Washington, the standards that the Democrats set for the Republicans, they themselves are not willing to live by. And the standards that the Republicans set for the Democrats, they themselves are not willing to live by. Why? Because if you let down you're guard for one moment and admit that you are wrong, you're political opponents will seize the moment and go for the kill.
 
I am reminded of a story about England's Prince Philip who was toasted at a banquet once with two lines from the poet John Dryden:
 
A man so various that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome.
 
The prince liked the lines so much he looked up the rest of the poem:
 
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long:
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.
 
I don't know who that person was who quoted that poem to Prince Philip but he sure got his point across. Washington needs a prophet like that, to step up and expose the abuse, the hypocrisy, the buffoonery. Jesus was that prophet in his day. He demanded honest leadership. Jesus was saying that leaders must guard against hypocrisy and aim toward humility, set aside greatness and strive for servanthood, wait for honor and act now out of duty.
 
Leadership, the way Jesus described it, is hard to find, even among the religious. It is difficult to find because....  

Maybe both the best and the worst of us in humanity are far better preachers than we are doers and deliverers of what we preach and teach. And maybe maturity has everything to do with our genuine willingness to bring a greater congruity between our esteemed words and those actions compatible with, not contradictory of, those words. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, loved and valued not just the right deeds, but also the right motives and attitudes. We, being fully human and ever spiritually in need of completion, will often settle for the right deeds and tolerate or overlook the improper attitudes and motives behind them. We do so, in part, because we ourselves are a contradiction in motion, either desiring to do right while we do wrong or overriding contrary emotions and attitudes and doing right anyway.

When one does what's right, but one's heart and mind are not fully in it, one is mastering showmanship. When one has matured enough to choose actions that are first of all very rooted in certain valued attitudes and motives, one is practicing and demonstrating authenticity. To think one thing and to do another might at times carry its own validity, if the doing proves preferable to what the thinking might have otherwise called into action. But to do something good because your mind and heart are greatly convinced and committed to it is not merely a sign of congruency. It's also an authentic witness of a fully persuaded person, with all parts of himself/herself headed in the right direction.

In the Matthew text we are studying, Jesus counsels all followers indeed to do/to follow the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees (v. 3). That's an affirmative response, as far as it goes. But he also calls them, and all other religious types similarly minded in the centuries since, to be more than persons who preach and teach a good line but lack active follow-through (v. 3). In verses 1 and 2, notice first the informal gathering of the crowds and disciples around Jesus. If you and I could imagine ourselves in the midst of such a gathering, I suspect we would consider Jesus being the only one in an esteemed position of authority. The rest of us, regardless of our life-stations before and after the gathering, are merely attentive spectators. Is it not our desire, may we safely say, to move Jesus out of his esteemed seat as teacher/rabbi/Lord? This is not so with the scribes and Pharisees. Verse 2 notes that they "sit on Moses' seat," that is, wherever they might travel, sit, or stand, they have an authoritative air about them that often also carries a kind of arrogance that wants to demote the stature of others nearby. Their humility before God is darkened by their pride and arrogance before others.

The scribes and Pharisees are an interesting kind of person. They are the religious legalists of the day, knowing religious Law down to its every detail. They've trained their minds to carry a vast knowledge of the Law, and their hearts and wills reveal a very deep dedication or burning devotion to God. Could we call this mixture of personhood legalistic lovers of God?

What is it that incurs Jesus' anger, recognized in and between the lines of verses 3b-7? I think it has to do with his wise unwillingness to allow showmanship to pass for authenticity and congruency... 
__________________________
Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? It is a growth industry. A recent study found that 15.4 million people in the United States were the victims of identity theft in 2016 and in the past six years identity thieves have stolen over $107 billion from people like you and me.
 
What is identity theft? Identity theft is a serious crime. Identity theft happens when someone uses information about you without your permission. They could use your name, address, credit card or bank account numbers, Social Security number, even medical insurance account numbers to do you harm.
 
What are the most common ways to identity theft? According to the U. S. Department of Justice there are several ways somebody can steal your identity. In public places, for example, criminals may engage in "shoulder surfing"--watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number--or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit-card number over the telephone.
If you receive applications for "pre-approved" credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their own use without your knowledge. Also, if your mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and redirect your mail to another location.
 
Many people respond to "spam"--unsolicited E-mail--that promises some benefit but also requests some identifying data. With this data, a criminal is able to conduct a wide range of crimes. For example: False applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or online accounts, or obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name. (1)
 
Have I succeeded in making you paranoid yet? No need to be, but I hope I've helped you be more vigilant. Identity theft is a threat to us all. It could happen to anyone. Of course, you could be a victim of identity theft purely by mistake.... 
_____________________________________
Humility in Action

One of the best stories of humility I know is that of a man who arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute. He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter, "That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking."

We've been given a great task - to live in harmony, to weep with the mournful, to laugh with the joyful, to not be conceited. Especially, we are called to be righteous, but not self-righteous. We are to be humble.
Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality
________________________________
Fall Back
 

Remember, Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend, officially on November 5 at 2:00 am.  Don't forget to set your clock back one hour!
_________________________________ 
Admired the Peacock, but Loved the Duck

Carlton Van Ornum tells this story. A large crowd of people gathered near an enclosure in the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston as a peacock slowly spread his great tail and displayed its stunning plumage. The great bird stood erect and noble and strutted regally. Just then an old, dun-colored duck waddled slowly from the pond and passed between the proud peacock and the admiring crowd. Enraged, the peacock drove the duck back to the water. In a moment, the beautiful bird had become ugly with fierce anger. The plain and awkward duck, having returned to its natural habitat, was no longer unbecoming. In the water it swam and dived gracefully, unaware that many eyes were watching. The people who had admired the peacock loved the duck. Each of us was reminded of the dangers of pride, and that happiness comes from just being ourselves.

Jerry L. Schmalenberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Company
_____________________________
Jesus' Criticisms

Here is a list of Jesus' criticisms about religious leadership in his day:

They did not practice what they taught (hypocrisy).
They put heavy burdens on others but not themselves (legalism).
They sought and loved public recognition (pride).
Status, respect and titles were important to them (arrogance).
They locked people out of the kingdom (judgmental).
They established laws to benefit themselves (greed).
They neglected to emphasize justice and mercy (bias).
They were accomplices to silencing the prophets (oppressive).

George Johnson, Critical Decisions in Following Jesus, CSS Publishing Company.
____________________________
The Young Seminarian
 
A young seminary graduate came up to the lectern, very self-confident and immaculately dressed. He began to deliver his first sermon in his first church and the words simply would not come out. Finally he burst into tears and ended up leaving the platform obviously humbled.
 
There were two older ladies sitting in the front row and one remarked to the other, "If he'd come in like he went out, he would have gone out like he came in."
 
Jesus calls us to a real trust in God and to humble service in his church and world. The temptation is ever before us to exalt ourselves - to impress others, to make a name for ourselves. That was not how Jesus came, nor was it why he came.
 
Peter J. Blackburn, Humble Before God
_______________________________ 
 All Perfume, No Flowers
 
The brilliant behavioral scientist Gordon Allport spoke at Appleton Chapel at Harvard University about how a code of ethics, however highly approved, can be a hollow thing without something to back it up. Following the RULES of faith-as if that was all that was required-was likened by Dr. Allport to living on the perfume of an empty vase. It's possible to live, perhaps for a long time, on the perfume of an empty vase, but sooner or later one is thrust into a situation where there had better be some real flowers, not just the aroma, or one is lost.

In our Gospel we see the tragedy of being religious without being the real deal, of placing primary emphasis on outer conduct rather than on inner character. Those to whom Jesus speaks did not recognize their need to be changed. These people may talk a good fight of faith, but when they are forced to fall back upon their inner resources of faith, they discover that the tank is empty. Jesus says, "Don't imitate them for they don't practice what they teach." All perfume, no flowers.

Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality 
_________________________
 
Hospitality Outdoes Erudition
 
One pastor tells of his excitement of bringing into parish membership a university professor. The pastor endeavored to prepare and to deliver better sermons from the pulpit, as this prospective member continued to attend worship. Later, while reflecting with the professor after he joined the parish, the pastor found that the professor's joining had less to do with the sermons he heard and more to do with an elderly woman who consistently made him feel so welcomed and valued. That was what moved him into Christian community. Imagine that: the Christian spirit of hospitality outdid erudition. Servanthood over showmanship wins hearts in many, many places.
 
Joseph M. Freeman, Where Gratitude Abounds, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
____________________________ 
 The danger of pride is that it feeds on goodness.
 
 Traditional 
_____________________________
I Am the Path
 
The church in the world is a lot like the story that E. Stanley Jones tells of the missionary in the jungle. He got lost with nothing around him but bush and a few cleared places. He finally found a small village and asked one of the natives if he could lead him out of the jungle. The native said he could. "All right," the missionary said, "Show me the way." They walked for hours through dense brush hacking their way through unmarked jungle. The missionary began to worry and said, "Are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?" The native said. "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path."

Our path out of the jungle of this world is God in Christ. We may have some Rabbis, Masters, Father's, Teachers, and Reverends, but we are all like the missionary. We rely not upon men but Christ who is our path.
Brett Blair,www.Sermons.com
__________________________________
Exaltation of the Humble - Service
During the dark days of World War II, England had a great deal of difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. It was a thankless kind of job, totally lacking in any glory. Most chose to join the various military services. They desired something that could give them more social acceptance and recognition. Something was needed to motivate these men in the work that they were doing so that they would remain in the mines.

With this in mind, Winston Churchill delivered a speech one day to thousands of coal miners, stressing to them the importance of their role in the war effort. He did this by painting for them a mental picture....