By Bishop David McGough
Thirty-First Sunday of the Year Malachi 1: 14 2:2 & 8-10; 1 Thes 2: 7-9 & 13; Matthew 23: 1-12 Integrity of heart and mind can never be taken for granted. It is preserved by a humility that never tires of submitting its own conduct to the scrutiny of God’s will. The noblest intentions, without constant reference to the God who was their beginning, inevitably degenerate into a corrupt self-interest.
Such was the situation that confronted the Prophet Malachi in the years following Israel’s return from exile and the rebuilding of her temple.
This new beginning had begun with the brightest hope. God had indeed redeemed his people.
They had returned to Jerusalem. The Temple had been rebuilt. The time of tears was over, and once again a people set free could rejoice in their God.
Malachi confronted the ease with which this people had forgotten the Lord who had delivered them. The Jerusalem that should have been a sign of God’s continuing love rapidly descended into the selfish corruption that so often accompanies restored fortunes.
Malachi’s strongest words of condemnation were addressed to the priests entrusted with the sanctity of the restored Temple.
“You have strayed from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching.” Whatever our calling or place in life, we are called to the service of God and his people. The priests of the Jerusalem Temple had abused their privileged calling to enhance their own position and authority. They could not find it in their hearts to glorify the God in whose name they served. Malachi appealed to the compassion at the heart of Israel’s relationship with her God.
“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why, then, do we break faith with one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?” The corruption of the Temple clergy, so vehemently denounced by the prophet Malachi, challenges the integrity of every generation. We, like the restored city of Jerusalem, have known God’s graciousness.
We are called to reflect his faithfulness in the integrity of our private and public lives. We, no less than Malachi’s generation, are prey to the easy compromises that undermine our best intentions.
The repeated conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees followed a similar pattern. The Pharisaic movement had been rooted in a noble beginning. When the pagan influences of the Greek empire had begun to encroach on Israel’s faith, the predecessors of the Pharisees had safeguarded the integrity of that faith. Their zeal for Israel’s traditions had conferred upon them an honoured position in the life of the nation.
With the passage of time this authority had descended into a selfish desire for control and status. Jesus rightly condemned the hypocrisy that blinded their hearts.
“The scribes and Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach.” Jesus counselled humility as the control that safeguards integrity. God alone is Father, the source of all that we might claim to control. We can never claim the moral authority of a teacher, since Christ alone is the source of all truth. Our integrity rests in the humility that confesses itself to be a servant.
“Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”