Sunday, November 05, 2023

Between The Delicious & The Dreadful

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; Psalm 130 (131); 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

Picture: By Zachary Spears on Unsplash

My dear friends, is a sandwich a blessing or a curse? It depends, right? For example, we know how delicious a BLT can be: crispy bacon, fresh lettuce and juicy tomato, all pressed between lightly toasted slices of bread. But we also speak about the plight of the so-called sandwich generation. People between the ages of 35 and 59, stressed out from having to care for both growing children and aging parents. So it seems a sandwich can change from a blessing to a curse. How does it happen? Can it be prevented or reversed? These are the questions our scriptures help us ponder today.

In the first reading, the descendants of Levi are called to be a sandwich people. A tribe of priests, standing between God and the rest of Israel. To offer the people’s sacrifices to God, and God’s teaching to the people. And this call is meant to be a blessing for all. Sadly, their wayward appetites lead the priests astray. They greedily keep the best of the people’s offerings for themselves, and sacrifice to God animals that are lame and sick. As a result, their priesthood is changed from a blessing to a curse. Similarly, although not all of them are priests, the religious leaders in the gospel also stand between God and the people. And they too allow their appetites to lead them astray. Instead of glorifying God, they draw attention to themselves. They feed their own egos, and end up burdening those they are sent to serve.

It’s hard to hear this and not be reminded of that dreadful recently released report, which estimates that more than 200,000 children have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Spain since 1940. Still, it’s important to remember that there are forms of abuse other than the sexual, including the financial, the moral and spiritual. And it’s not just ordained clergy who are called to be priests. By virtue of our baptism, all of us Christians belong to a priestly people. Called to stand between God and the rest of creation. How then are we to live this sandwich vocation of ours as a blessing for all?

The scriptures show us how by offering us the image of a mother with an infant at her breast. The psalmist uses this image to describe his own relationship with God. Like a weaned child–who has learned not to insist on milk, but obediently feeds on whatever its mother chooses to offer it–the psalmist patiently and humbly waits to be fed by God’s loving hand. In the second reading, St Paul uses the same image to describe his ministry among the Thessalonians. Like a nursing mother–who feeds her baby with her very self–Paul and his companions are eager to hand over to the Thessalonians, not only the Good News but their whole lives as well. And, in doing so, Paul is only imitating Jesus, our great high priest, whose humble sacrifice on the Cross changes the curse of Death into the blessing of New Life. To be like a weaned child before God, and a nursing mother for others. This is the gift of Christ we need to beg from God.

Sisters and brothers, if ours is truly a sandwich vocation, then what shall we do to remain a delicious blessing, instead of becoming a dreadful curse today?

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