31st Sunday Homily in Ordinary Time Year A

Onslaught on hypocrisy


Jesus had some harsh criticism to make of the scribes and Pharisees. He called them hypocrites, who preached one thing and did another.

Which of us can truthfully say that our deeds match our words? Therefore, to some extent, we are all hypocrites. But each time we come to Mass we are called by God to a life of truth and sincerity. [Pause]

Let us confess our sins humbly and trustingly.

I confess to almighty God


First Reading (Malachi 1:14-2:2.8-10). The prophet gives the priests of his day a right good telling off because they have shown favouritism, thus causing distinctions and divisions among God’s people.

Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 217-913). Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his love and care for them, and how hard he worked to bring the Good News to them.

Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12). Jesus launches a very strong attack on the religious leaders, but what he says is important for us too.

Reading 1 MAL 1:14B-2:2B, 8-10
A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
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.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers?

Responsorial Psalm PS 131:1, 2, 3

R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
O LORD, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.
R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.
R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.
O Israel, hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.
R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

Reading 2 1 THES 2:7B-9, 13

Brothers and sisters:
We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, 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.
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.

Alleluia MT 23:9B, 10B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You have but one Father in heaven
and one master, the Christ.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 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,
greetings 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.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”


We cannot achieve either holiness or happiness by pretending to be what we are not. The moment we try to be what we are not, we become a fictitious personality, an unreal presence. What strenuous efforts, what enormous energy this pretence costs. It is pride that makes us do this. Humility, on the other hand, helps us to be ourselves, and gives us the greatest freedom. As long as we have to defend the imaginary self that we think is important, we lose our peace of mind.

In that little gem of a book, The Pearl, Steinbeck describes how pearls are formed and how they grow. He also describes the excitement of the fisherman who goes in search of them, hoping against hope that one day he will find a pearl of great price.

Pearls are formed by oysters. These lie on the seabed. They have little ruffles on their shells. From time to time an accident happens. A grain of sand finds its way between the folds of the muscle and irritates the flesh. In self-protection the flesh coats the grain of sand with a layer of smooth cement. Once started, the flesh continues to coat the foreign body with this cement.

When a diver emerges from the muddy seabed with a basketful of oysters he doesn’t know what to expect. As the shells are tightly closed, even the most experienced fisherman cannot tell from the outside which are empty and which contain a pearl. Each holds  some promise. Quite frequently, however, the biggest and most attractive ones turn out to be quite useless.

Imagine the excitement of the fisherman as he takes his knife and begins to open the oysters one by one. But it is often an extremely frustrating experience. Much of his work goes for nothing. Time and time again his hopes are dashed. The vast majority of oysters turn out to be empty. These he simply throws back into the sea, where they sink down to the muddy seabed once more. A small percentage may contain pearls, but only small ones that are ugly, flat, and almost valueless. But then one in a thousand contains a valuable pearl. When he finds one such pearl, his face lights up. He quickly forgets his pains, and suddenly his life is transformed.

Oysters, even empty ones, cannot pretend. Hence, though they may disappoint, they cannot deceive. People, on the other hand, are quite good at pretending. Therefore, they are also capable of deceiving. Sometimes they may even succeed in deceiving themselves. We are capable of putting on a show. We can dress up the shell, and give the impression that the inside is o.k. too, even though in reality it may be quite empty. In other words, we give the appearance of goodness without actually being good.

Here lies the kernel of Christ’s quarrel with the Pharisees. He accused them of showing on the outside what was not inside. He said they were only pretending to be good. In reality they were neither good nor holy people. But they were very good at pretending. They paraded themselves around dressed in fancy robes. They said long prayers, and kept all the rules, most which were of their own rather than of God’s making.

But inside they were hollow and empty. And like all hollow people they were desperately dependent on the esteem of others. Hence their efforts to show off, their need to attract attention to themselves. They looked for honour from others as eagerly as bees look for honey from flowers. On every possible occasion they stood on their dignity. They lapped up every crumb of privilege that was going with their office and state. They reveled in the limelight.

When people concentrate on inner goodness they don’t have to shout about it, or even want to. They know with a quiet certainty that they have something which no one can take from them, something which makes them feel worthwhile, no matter what others may think of them, They have self-respect. They are very humble about it, because they know it is something that has been given to them by God. It is not something they have attained through their own efforts.

Christ was able to see beneath the appearances. He was able to see the inner person. What joy it gave him when he found a genuine person. When he met Nathanael he said: ‘Here is a true Israelite, a man in whom there is not a trace of deceit or a shadow of pretence’. He gladly put up with Peter because he knew that in spite of his faults his heart was sound. He reached out to those who were lost, but who were desperately searching for something deeper, like the woman at Jacob’s well. Behind many a repulsive crust he found a thinking and feeling person.

It caused him great sadness, however, to meet people like the Pharisees, people who were wasting their time on the exterior, and who had no time for the interior. Fools! If they only realised it, they carried within them the pearl of their own goodness. Each of them was made in God’s image. But that image lay gathering mud, and becoming more and more obscured.

‘I hate goodness that preaches. Goodness that preaches undoes itself’. (Emerson).

‘Many religious people are not saints because they never succeed in being themselves’. (Thomas Merton).


Let us pray to God our Father that we may not repeat the mistakes of the Pharisees. R. Lord, graciously hear us.

For Christians: that they may not be content with the appearance of goodness rather than goodness itself. [Pause] Lord, hear us.  

For parents, teachers, priests, and leaders in any sphere: that they may practice the things they preach to others. [Pause] Lord, hear us.

That we may realise that we do not have to pretend; all we have to be is try to live up to what we already are – God’s beloved sons and daughters. [Pause] Lord, hear us.

For local needs.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, you Son taught us what is important in life. We ask for your strength to live up to what he taught us. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord.


Those who knew the great Mahatma Gandhi

all admired his inner calm and peace.

How did he achieve this?

By doing at all times what he thought right;

not what he thought expedient,

or popular, or safe.

Thus he was a happy and integrated person,

and was able to engage in peaceful dialogue with others,

even with his enemies.

He took words and ideas very seriously.

If he thought a moral precept was right,

he first of all lived it,

and only then preached it.

At the root of innumerable wrongs in our world

is the discrepancy between word and deed.

It is the weakness of Churches, parties, and persons.

It gives people and institutions split personalities.

This was the chief fault Christ found with the Pharisees:

‘They do not practice what they preach’.

There can be no happiness for us,

as long as the things we believe in

are different from the things we do.

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