On "All Saints Day" (Nov. 1) the Church calls us to imitate the Saints, our ancestors and friends -- that "cloud of witnesses" who have offered their witness and encouragement. Today through the prophet Malachi, God judges the priests of Israel and calls them to be more faithful to the Covenant. In the 2nd reading Paul reminded the Thessalonians how gentle he and his colleagues had been with them—”like a nursing mother” (v. 7). They had given the Thessalonians, not only the Good News, but also their own selves “because you have become very dear to us” (v. 8). The Thessalonians had not seen greed or deception. Instead they had seen the apostles working and travailing. Paul’s point is that he and his colleagues have supported themselves financially, while also preaching the Gospel. They did this so that they might not impose a financial burden on the Thessalonian converts. This is the way to win people.
Jesus in the Gospel warns against following the example of the scribes and the Pharisees and teaches that those who would be great must be servants.
The scribes and Pharisees were teachers of the Mosaic Law. They were entrusted with its interpretation and, thus, were influential in determining Jewish practice. This part of Matthew’s Gospel reflects aspects of the conflict between his Christian community and Pharisaic Judaism. Matthew’s Church is thought to have included many Jewish Christians who may not have believed that a break with the synagogue was necessary to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells the crowd that it is correct to do and observe what the scribes and Pharisees teach; it is their example that is to be avoided, namely, their love of being honored and exalted.
The Pharisees’ love of honor manifests itself in several ways. “They make their phylacteries broad, enlarge the fringes of their garments” (v. 5b). Phylacteries (also known as tephillin) are leather boxes containing one or more scrolls inscribed with passages of scripture in accord with the law, 18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem[a] on your forehead (Deuteronomy 11:18). In obedience to this law, the scribes and Pharisees wear phylacteries on their forehead and their arm. The phylacteries serve as a constant reminder of God’s law. Tassels or fringes are required by Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12, and are intended to remind people of God’s commandments. Jesus wears such fringe on his garments. Phylacteries and tassels are God’s idea, laid down by God in the Torah. The problem is not that the scribes and Pharisees observe these Torah laws, but that they seek personal honor for doing so. They wear especially large phylacteries and long tassels to draw attention to their scrupulous observance.
The warning Jesus gives against seeking places of honor in the community was directed as much toward the Christian community as the named Jewish leaders. Indeed, it is a warning that resonates with us today. Christian leadership is a call to service for the glory of God; those who would be leaders among us must, like Jesus, be servants of all.
“But he who is greatest among you will be your servant” (v. 11). We are reminded of Jesus’ words, “But many will be last who are first; and first will be last” The kingdom of God is an upside down world—like a mirror in which everything is reversed—a kingdom where the rules are the opposite of the world’s rules. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 12) is also very different from the world’s rule. The Grand Reversal will be fulfilled completely when Jesus returns and the kingdom of God is fully revealed. However, we don’t have to wait for the Second Coming to begin life in God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is anyplace where God is king. We are part of God’s kingdom if we have made God king in our lives and allow Him to reign by following His Word.