11-5-2017 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov 6, 2017
31st Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
The readings today speak to us of "leadership gone bad"—and they have a very contemporary ring to them. The readings are challenging for all of us—but they are particularly challenging for the clergy or "religious professionals," if you will.
I’ve been a priest for 40 years, and I’ve worked in many different positions in the Church. I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon the meaning of priesthood, my own life as a priest, and to observe the lives of many other priests, bishops, and seminarians. The readings today invite all of us—those in religious leadership, and those in civil or business leadership—to take stock of our lives, our conduct, and our commitment to service. If we do, we can avoid the behaviors that the prophets, and Jesus, condemn.
But first a general comment: Ancient Judaism seemed particularly sensitive to "religion gone bad": bad leadership among its shepherds, shepherds who abuse the flock, shepherds who use their position for personal gain. The prophets—including Malachi today—rail against this misconduct and bad leadership. Frankly, there is nothing quite like this in other world religions—in fact, it is more common to hide, and deny, any misconduct than to address it.
Another general comment is this: though the language of the prophets about bad shepherds is harsh, it should not be taken as a dismissal of religion itself. None of the prophets spoke against the Temple or the Law—rather, they spoke of the corruption of something that was meant to be good and life-giving.
So what does the Prophet Malachi have to say? We should first note that Malachi is the last book of the prophets and thus the last book of the Old Testament. As such, it has a special significance in the canon of Scripture—and the words speak loudly to us.
Malachi is writing after the Babylonian exile, when the temple of Jerusalem is being rebuilt and the Israelite religion is being re-established in the land. Malachi says, however, that the priests, the leaders, have strayed "far from the way"—leading others to falter. They have misused their position of leadership, and have "made void" their priestly promises. In sharp words, the prophet curses them and calls them "contemptible."
We should not point the finger just at clergy here. Recent news has shown that the misuse of power is evident in politics, in business, in entertainment, and in sports. As the saying goes, power corrupts, and we see it in the news each day.
The Gospel reinforces Malachi’s message; and Jesus, like the prophets of old, warns leaders about misusing their power—either to take advantage of people, or for personal gain.
But having said all that, we also need to affirm that all is not bad, and I don’t want this homily to end on a depressing note. We all know that there are good priests, and good leaders, and admirable men and women in all walks of life, who are virtuous and bring honor to their professions.
St. Paul was certainly one of them. Paul describes his leadership and ministry as showing the care of a nursing mother with her children. He exhorts Christian leaders to share not only the Good News—but their lives as well: "With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very lives as well."
And that is what all of us are called to—all of us who hold positions of leadership.
. . . keeping in mind the words of Jesus: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."