Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
A lady once got a gift of a pot of tulips which didn’t look exceptionally pretty. However, she decided to take care of the plants since they came from family friends.
She watered and nurtured the flowers faithfully for two years until one afternoon when she saw her youngest son fiddling with the plants. She cautioned him that touching could cause spots on the petals. But she was stunned by the son’s reply: “Mom, this plant isn’t real!” And he was right! For two years she had nurtured a plastic plant.
At the end she confessed that indeed there was some exceptional toughness about the plants as they survived the seasons. Yes, sometimes that which is false can be hard.
Because the Pharisees could not keep things real, they can’t practice what they preach. They are quick to draw up rules which are difficult for people to carry out but they don’t give a hand in their implementation.
Those in authority including legislators, teachers, parents and even the church hierarchy are guilty of this attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do”.
Sometimes we tell the young ones or our subordinates to do or not do something and expect compliance simply because we have said it. But is that a sufficient reason? Words lack effect without authority. And from Jesus who speaks with authority we learn that words go with authority only if the speaker has competence and integrity.
The Pharisees, like most of us, may have the competence because they have learnt their trade but they lack integrity because their actions don’t match their words. Respect cannot be demanded. It can only be earned.
A lady followed the actor Robert Redford into an elevator and excitedly asked him: “Are you the real Robert Redford?” As the doors of the elevator closed, he replied: “Only when I’m alone!”
In our celebrity and image-conscious culture, how we are seen is more important than who we really are.
The result is the hypocrisy or double-standard for which Jesus severely indicted the religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel.
I came to realise a long time ago that I’m the best in the world at one thing only; in being myself. I’m not the best preacher neither am I the best singer or dancer. But nobody can be me better than me. You and I have absolutely nothing to gain by pretending to be what we are not. Rather, he that is down needs fear no fall!
We all like to surround ourselves with a certain aura which is far from the reality hence scandal erupts when we are found out.
Today, public figures and those in positions of trust are being humiliated out of their positions following the bursting of their undercover activities. There is a vulnerability and weakness in all parents, priests, teachers and other authority figures that we need to admit to openly.
Adults can perfectly relate to the common humanity of humble and unpretentious leaders. Children can also understand the weakness of their parents after all they have seen and possibly made you cry or mad. What is unacceptable is the treachery of being arrogant and feeling superior while in reality one is not any better.
The VIP syndrome of today is borne out of our celebrity and image-conscious culture. It informs the idea of executive lounges at the airports, special tables in the restaurant, high tables at events, executive suites in the hotel. Public figures not only get the perks but soon expect them as a right.
Ordinary people are becoming slaves of image too, running after brands, labels and titles. In my native Nigerian community, some answer Lion, others Tiger yet when you call them animals they take offence. Some people would not honour an invitation unless all their titles are enumerated and in the right order; OBE, MBE, OCD, SUV, GSM, PhD. At the end everybody graduates with an RIP.
However, the people mostly indicted in today’s Gospel are the religious leaders. There is a clear message about status and power in the royal appearance of Bishops, and titles are not in short supply; Your Eminence, Your Grace, Your Lordship, Rt. Rev., Very Rev.
None of these things, says Jesus, makes a person great. The greatest is the one who serves; the one who uses his or her gifts for the common good.
People in authority especially religious leaders could begin to mistake the respect given them because of God for a right and this leads to arrogance. None of us working for God has a mission: the mission is that of the Church, and we just share in it. As priest, parents or teachers, we are only channels of God’s Word and his Truth, which we never grasp fully.
The billionaire Face Book founder, Mark Zuckerberg, goes on the one ash colour T-shirt. Instructively, he revealed that choosing what to wear is a “silly” decision he doesn’t want to waste time on. He is too busy looking after the world’s largest social network.
When we are concerned about image and face, we cannot relate to other people freely and concentrate on how we can be of help to them. We are too busy looking at ourselves.