Tangled In Our Tassels

11.5.17  Sun. wk 31 – O.T. – A
1st Reading  Malachi  1: 14b – 2: 2b, 8 – 10
Thessalonians  2:  7b – 9, 13
Gospel – Matt 23:  1 – 12

†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.  They tie up heavy burdens* [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,7greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.  As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.  Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.10Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The Gospel of the Lord.


Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                                Tangled In Our Tassels

The scribes and Pharisees loved all the attention that they would get.  Their huge tassels at the bottom of their clothes, and the wide phylacteries they wore on their garments all communicated how seriously they obeyed the letter of the Law.   These were serious people and how they dressed communicated that fact – that was the whole point of it.  Many would comment about how well they observed all the rituals and regulations of their religion.   ‘The letter of the Law’ was very important and they were very insistent that the people follow ‘The Letter of the Law.’

So why is †Jesus critical of them?   They were just trying to be good teachers of the Law of Moses.  †Jesus rebuked them because it was all about “them.”  They wanted all the attention, they wanted all the power and authority and they distracted the people from focusing on God.  As long as the people were looking at them (scribes and Pharisees) and their garments and listening to their powerful words, they took the place of God.  They were not serving the people; their ostentatious clothes were about their social status.  And the Pharisees and scribes placed burdens on the people. They were called to serve and lacked compassion for the people.  In fact †Jesus said: “They tie heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on the people’s shoulders, but they do not lift a finger to move them.” (Matt.23:4) They were happy to teach the truth of God’s Commandments to the people, commandments of God’s love, and they were ready to criticize those who did not follow the Law to the Nth degree.  But they were not willing to show mercy and love; God’s mercy and love.  They told them: “This is what you’ve have to do, and you are sinful if you don’t.”

Cardinal Francis George, the former Archbishop of Chicago, once said this: “You cannot simply drop the truth on people and then walk away, convinced that you have done your duty.  Rather, once you tell people the truth, you will be committed to helping them integrate the truth into their lives.”  To speak to people about God and His love for them, to point out how they must change their lives to live a more virtuous life and then walk away and leave them on their own to work it out – I call that ‘drive-by evangelization’. That’s all it is.  You point out what they’ve got to do and then, you leave them alone.  There is no effort to help them along the way.

In fact, we read this in the Letter of James: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and one of you says to him: ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also of faith, if it does not have works – it is dead.” (James 2:15-17)  We are quick to criticize the people we think are doing wrong, but that is it.  Oftentimes we find ourselves standing above them as morally or spiritually superior.  When we do that, all we are doing is exposing our tassels and phylacteries.

When †Jesus came upon those who were in need, He showed compassion for them; He walked among the sinners.  He walked among the weak; He was an expression of God’s love!  That’s why †Jesus said this: “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.  Do not be called ‘Master’; you have one master, the Christ.” (Matt.23:9-10)  We are to imitate the love of God and the compassion of †Jesus.  The Lord’s compassion and love are the models for us, models of how we are to live our lives.   But in our 21st century, in this era of celebrities – we want to dress and talk and eat like celebrities, the people we see on television in the movies. But †Jesus is saying: ‘No.  There is only one model and that’s our Father in heaven who constantly showers upon us – His mercy and love and compassion.’

Why do we venerate the Saints as we did this last week on All Saints Day?  Because they give us clear and practical examples of the imitation of Christ.  They were not perfect, they were sinners, but they continued to walk the way of the Lord to overcome their sinfulness, to become holy.  They lived in the unconditional love of Christ.  This is the example of St. Paul.   While he was not afraid to challenge wrongdoing when he saw it (Paul was a passionate apostle) he never lorded it over his flock at all.  He worked side-by-side with believers and nonbelievers alike, just as he wrote in our second reading today in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “You recall…our toil and drudgery.  Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.” (1 Thess.2:9)

We are called to reveal Christ to the world and we do this by imitating His example.   With His words and actions, †Jesus showed what He wanted a disciple to be.  He wants us to preach the Good News, and if necessary – use words.   We do this by how we live.  We are to walk with people.  We are to be shepherds and walk with the sheep.   In fact, Pope Francis has called us to accompany one another along ‘The Journey of Life.’  He has received so much criticism because he hasn’t been pointing fingers at people that we sometimes, believe are sinners.  When asked about same-sex marriage, he responded: “Who am I to judge?”   Pope Francis chooses to walk along with people, not because we’re going to give in to their agenda (our doctrine is very clear and he is very clear) but if we just judge and walk away, how do we explain to them the beauty of our faith and the truth of what we believe.  We walk with them.  We are afraid because they differ from us, because their ideas are different.  No, we walk with them and try to explain why we believe what we believe.  We are not going to change our doctrine, but let’s give them a chance to experience the beauty of the truth of the Good News of †Jesus Christ.  In fact, Pope Francis has told us: “We must smell like the sheep.”  We are not to stand at a distance pointing fingers at people without ever lifting a finger to help them along the way.

To imitate the compassion of †Jesus as a shepherd who accompanies His sheep, requires humility.  Humble service is at the heart of †Jesus and the Gospel.  True respect for God and true respect for the Gospel is witnessed by humility, and simplicity of heart.  True humility frees us from the preoccupation with ourselves, drawing attention to ourselves rather than to God, just as the Pharisees did.  Humility is truth in self-awareness; it recognizes the truth of who I am.   I am not the Creator; I am the creature.  I am not the Master; I am the disciple.  True humility frees me up to be the person God wants me to be – ‘truth in action’.  True humility allows me to be directed by the Holy Spirit, so I can grow in wisdom, and knowledge, and compassion. Humility allows us to walk with others along the way with the compassion and love of †Jesus and not getting tangled in our tassels.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.