Reason and Approach

November 1, 2020 The Thirty-first Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s readings: The Boss’s Job

Psalm 131:1-3, Malachi 1:14-2:2; 2:8-10, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-13, Matthew 23:1-12

Every organization has a structure. From the bureaucracies of government to corporate titles, everybody has a boss and most of us would like to be one. So, you take those extra courses, work diligently, and make the right connections, until, finally, you get that promotion. As you enjoy your new advancement with your morning coffee and corner office view, you revisit the question, “Why am I in this spot?” Putting aside the perks and the bounce in pay, you’re there because the bosses see you as an asset to help further their goals. You’re confident that you can do that. But there is a deeper aspect to consider when answering this question because the reason determines your approach. It manifests the real you. How are you going to treat the people below you? How will you respond to authority? How will you act when pressured with a moral dilemma? This is the part that answers to God Almighty. So, to do well on the approach side of the ledger, it is crucial that you get the reason right.

In today’s gospel, Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus acknowledges the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. He reinforces their position in the seat of Moses to teach and direct the people, but He urges the crowd not to follow their example. The way they do things is totally messed up. They parade their piety to gain admiration. They crave the praise and prestige of their position. They love the power they have in directing people’s lives, while ignoring their own rules and doing their own thing. Jesus points out that it’s because they made their positions in Jewish society about themselves and were doing things for the wrong reason. He concludes that, in God’s eyes, the greater person serves. The correct answer to “Why am I in this position?” is “So I could be a benefit to others.” Take the humble approach. You will be exalted. The proud path only ends one way.

Our reading in Malachi describes the consequences of acting on the wrong reason: “Those that exalt themselves will be disgraced.” The pride of the priests, at that time, led to contempt toward God. The Lord does not take this lightly. He replaces their blessings with curses for their sins. Being leaders, their actions effect more than just themselves. Their disdain for God ripples out to the population as they teach others to play fast and loose with His laws and commandments. Sacrifices are sub-par. Iniquities multiply. Justice is perverted. Their behavior mocks the very covenant that the Lord made with their forefathers and undermines their sole purpose for being a nation.  In response, God Almighty shuts them away and the heavens are silent for four hundred years. Then, one day, the message of John the Baptist rings through the Jordan Valley, “Repent for the kingdom of God (a new nation) is at hand.”

Jesus Christ demonstrates the right reason for being here. He leaves His place in heaven. He humbles Himself and becomes a blue collar working stiff. The Son of Man came to serve and not be served. With His death, the ultimate sacrifice of love and service, He establishes His church, the beginning of His kingdom here on earth. Having a servant led organization runs so very counter intuitive to us. What does it look like? We can see St. Paul and company following our Lord’s example in today’s epistle in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-13. In this passage, the Apostle reminds the new believers how they came to them with motherly care, how they worked night and day to pay their own way, how their blameless conduct was a model for the church to follow, and how dearly they loved the people there. They took the spotlight off themselves and made it all about the gospel. Their approach to the Thessalonians proved that they had the right answer as to why they were there in the first place: to share the message of the love of God. The result was an established and empowered church in that city. Mission accomplished!

It really doesn’t matter where you are on the ladder of your organization. It’s what you’re doing on your rung that’s important. We can get some advice from our reading in Psalm 131:1-3. Don’t be proud or arrogant in your own eyes. Treat people with respect. Don’t look out for yourself only. Take the needs of others into account. Be a mentor, not a tormentor. Spur yourself on to be the best you can, but don’t let the reach of your ambition exceed your grasp and destroy your peace. Where you are has a specific sphere of contacts. Inoculate them with an example of Christlikeness. Never forget that you are a witness for Jesus in this world first and your job is there to just pay the expenses. Finally, to be successful in the eyes of God you must: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your…approach” (Proverbs 3:5-6 sort of).

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