The readings for this Sunday, Nov. 5, warn against hypocrisy, especially on the part of religious leaders. But what did they do to deserve that reprimand—and are we guilty of the same?
by Jerry Windley-Daoust
The common theme of the Scripture readings for this Sunday is clear. Both readings reprimand religious leaders for their hypocrisy…for leading the people astray, and for not practicing what they preach. But what, exactly, did they do to deserve such a warning? And are we guilty of doing the same?
Malachi 1:14B-2:2B, 8-10
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
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.”
You can read the full text of this Sunday’s readings here:
The first reading is from the Book of Malachi, a prophetic book written after the people returned to Israel in the wake of the Babylonian Exile. Malachi addresses lapses in religious practice that accompanied the restoration of Temple sacrifice: it apparently didn’t take long for the people to fall away from the covenant. In this text, the focus is on the Levites—the priestly class—who have not only fallen away from God’s ways, but also lead the people astray with their instruction.
The Gospel reading is from chapter 23 of Matthew, a chapter devoted entirely to Jesus calling out the scribes and Pharisees. In this Sunday’s reading, Jesus commends the religious expertise of the scribes and Pharisees: they know their stuff, so Jesus recommends his followers listen to what they say—but without imitating their behavior, because they don’t practice what they preach. Jesus had two main criticisms of these religious leaders: first, they interpret the Law so strictly that it imposes a great burden on their followers; and second, they’re more concerned with self-aggrandizement than with serving God and neighbor. They show off, seek titles and privileges, and ultimately miss the very heart of the Law. Remember what the heart of the Law is? It was identified in last week’s reading: love of God and neighbor. The Pharisees know their “catechism” by heart, but they themselves have no heart.
Both Malachi and Jesus conclude their criticism by pointing their listeners to the “one Father” of us all—the one who should really be at the center of our religious practice.
The second reading continues our walk through 1 Thessalonians. Coincidentally, Paul offers a description of apostolic leadership that is a perfect contrast to the behavior of the religious leaders depicted in the other two readings. Paul and his companions were gentle with their flock—as gentle as a nursing mother. Their leadership is marked by affection and genuine love: “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.” The picture Paul paints is one of religious leaders who not only teach the Gospel, but do so in a way that conveys its very heart.
Pause: What word or words stood out for you?
It sounds like Jesus thinks the scribes and Pharisees were kind of bossy! They want to tell everyone else what to do and make themselves more important than they really are. They know the rules…but they don’t always follow them. plus, they miss the most important rules: love, mercy, and kindness! Have you ever met someone who has the same problem? What about you—are you ever bossy?
“Practice what you preach.” No one likes a hypocrite—especially not a proud, self-righteous one! What spiritual practices and disciplines can people work on to avoid these pitfalls?
As parents, we’re the “religious leaders” of our households…and therefore the words of the readings have special meaning for us. So…are you more like Paul and his companions, or the priests and Pharisees? Probably a mixture of both, right? What spiritual practice helps you stay down-to-earth as you model the faith for your kids?
A little lectio
The ancient practice of prayerfully reflecting on bits of Scripture is known as lectio divina. Want to try it out with your family? Head over to Lectio Divina for Kids to find out how to adapt this prayer practice for your kids.
A little Bible study
Want to do a little Bible study with your kids? Here are some tips:
- During Ordinary Time, the Church pairs the Old Testament and New Testament readings in a way that each sheds light on the other. Ask your kids to look for the common theme connecting the two readings. (Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it is subtle.) How does the “dialogue” between the readings help you understand them better?
- Get a New American Bible, Revised Edition, and take a look at the footnotes for these readings. How do they change your understanding of what is going on?
- Take a look at the context for the readings—what happens before, or after?
- Read the NABRE’s introduction to the book of the Bible that the readings are taken from. How does that help you understand the readings?
- If you don’t have a copy of the NABRE at home, you can view it online at the USCCB website at the Daily Readings web page. (The link will take you to today’s reading; click forward or backward on the dates to get to Sunday’s readings.)
For even more resources for breaking open this Sunday’s readings, head over to The Sunday Website.
The image for Breaking Open the Word at Home is taken from a 17th century illuminated manuscript by an anonymous (but very talented) artist. The text is from the beginning of the Book of Sirach, chapter 1, verses 1-12, which begins: “All wisdom is from the Lord and remains with him forever.”