HYPOCRISY AND HUMILITY – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 26, Year A; Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

November 5, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Joshua 3:7-17 or Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 or Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Malachi 1:14b – 2:2b, 8-10
Psalm 131:1, 2, 3
1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
Matthew 23:1-12

In the runup to this week’s elections in the United States, we have sometimes heard accusations of hypocrisy against candidates who may have taken positions at odds with their record on various issues. There have likewise been some famous examples in recent years of religious leaders whose private behavior has differed significantly from their public stances, including lavish lifestyles or abusive sexual relationships.

Hypocrisy is at the heart of today’s Gospel reading, which presents yet another contentious encounter between Jesus and religious leaders in Jerusalem during the week in which he would be arrested and put to death. They have so far challenged his authority and have put him on the spot regarding points of law and belief. In addition to meeting each challenge successfully, Jesus has in turn told several pointed parables that cast these leaders as unfaithful stewards of God’s people.

In the passage we hear today, Jesus directly calls out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. On the one hand, he says, they impose burdensome requirements on others while failing to carry any of the load themselves. On the other hand, they perform works merely to be seen, craving places of honor and expecting to be addressed with titles of respect. Jesus criticizes their two-fold hypocrisy—pointing out what they fail to do even as they engage in public displays of religiosity.

Matthew uses Jesus’s encounter with religious leaders to speak to the church in his own day (several decades later) about authentic leadership and authority. Jesus turns the spotlight away from the scribes and Pharisees and redirects it toward his own followers—meaning us. He tells us not to be caught up with titles or position. He instructs us not to call one another rabbi or father or instructor. All of us are first of all disciples—children of God and students of God’s ways.

Greatness is to be found not in rank but in service. Similarly, authentic leadership is marked by humility rather than power. Instead of seeking seats of honor or external marks of office, Jesus calls us to cast our lot with the poor, the lowly, the sinners, and the marginalized. That is the way of the One who served others with a heart of compassion and embraced suffering and humiliation out of love.

For those of us who hold positions of authority or leadership in the family, the community, the workplace, or the church, the words of Jesus may sting. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we sometimes fail to live up to the ideals we espouse and teach. The Gospel reminds us that before we are leaders, we are disciples who are called to follow the way of Christ. We are to exercise leadership in a spirit of service, seeking first to be faithful followers and humbly recognizing our own limitations.

A Hymn for Today: “Who Will Speak a Word of Warning”

Jesus served others with a heart full of compassion but never shrank from fulfilling his prophetic call to point out injustice and hypocrisy. Hymn Society member Richard Leach has written a text that reminds the church of its call to carry on that prophetic mission, proclaiming words of warning, wisdom, and welcome in our own day.

Who will speak a word of warning
to a world whose wealth expands,
as the growing wealth is gathered
into ever fewer hands?
Christ, you speak a word of warning
for the church to know and tell:
greed is death and life is giving;
hands that give receive as well.

Who will speak a word of wisdom
to a world where truth gives way,
as the claims of pow’r and priv’lege
shift and shape the truth each day?
Christ, you speak a word of wisdom
for the church to heed and share:
truth is not the claims of power!
Truth is hurt and hope and prayer.

Who will speak a word of welcome
to the greatest and the least,
calling those with pow’r to service,
calling all to share the feast?
Christ, you speak a word of welcome
for the church to tell and live:
all who hunger, come, be seated;
take what Christ is here to give.

Text: Richard Leach, b. 1953. © 2000, Selah Publishing Co., Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Personification of Humility, Cathédrale d’Amiens

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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