A young man was talking about his family; he said, “I am from a very wealthy family, my ancestors were great warriors. Some of my ancestors founded the biggest companies and industries in this city.” He went on bragging about his ancestors and his family. Then a poor man, who was listening to him said, “Well, I don’t know much about my own ancestors, but one thing is sure, (he bent down and got a hand-full of sand and showed to those around saying) my ancestors met his ancestors here.”
The month of November is dedicated to the memory of the dead. On 2nd November, we commemorate All Souls. It is an opportunity to pray for the dead and to remind us of our own mortality. This reminder of our mortality should challenge us to be humble and be in good terms with God and His creation. Etymologically, the English word humility comes from the Latin humilitas and also related to the word humus (earth/soil), so the humble person is one who is grounded or conscious of his/her connection to the same earth as others. We also get this same reminder every Ash Wednesday when the minister signs our foreheads with ashes and says, “Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” It is very significant to note that the same ashes is used for everybody: young and old, rich and poor, democrats and republicans, immigrants and non-immigrants, black and white.
In the past few Sundays, Jesus was talking to the religious leaders directly; today he is talking to the crowds and his disciples about the problems of the religious leaders whose bad examples the crowds must not follow. Jesus condemns the Scribes and the Pharisees for their bad examples. The Scribes were the lawyers and served as interpreters and teachers of the law among the Jews. The Pharisees were members of a sect within Judaism. Their name (Pharisees) comes from Aramaic, meaning “separated”, the “separate ones” or “separators. They saw Judaism as a religion centered upon the observance of the law and they interpreted the observance of the law in the most severe manner. They were not priests like the Sadducees, but they were proudly exclusive because of their strict observance of the law and their self-righteousness. They focused on the external formalities of religion as they get their ultimate reward from being seen by others. They thought religion should revolve around them and they could not imagine the possibility of God’s saving activity and God’s power going beyond them.
There is nothing wrong with being different from others. “Variety” they say “is the spice of life”. But the question is, what is our attitude toward the differences? How proudly exclusive are we? As priests, do we see ourselves as “sacred cows”, special breeds and the “only go-to priests”? As Catholics, do we have some kind of spirituality that makes us think less of other Catholics? Does our class, talent, race, etc exclude others from our good thoughts? If yes, then we are modern day Pharisees. The problem is not with being different; the problem is with the pomposity and exclusivity that go with it.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and pride. The English word “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek hupokrisis, which means acting of a theatrical part. So, in theater, the hypocrite is one who plays a role or pretends to be what they are not. When we come to Mass and eat of the same body and from the same blood on the same table, and then find it difficult to share our meals with others after Mass, we are nothing but hypocrites. If after praying the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, we go home to tell our spouses, families or friends that we can’t forgive them, we are nothing but hypocrites; it means we were only part of the Mass as actors. If after praying the “Our Father” at Mass, we go outside to segregate and discriminate based on people’s origin, it means we do not believe God is our Father, we were only play-acting at Mass. The Mass does not end with the dismissal; the dismissal only sends us out to go practice what we have celebrated.
My dearly beloved in Christ, God is our true source. We have been blessed in various ways. It is ok to be different; but if we feel we are better than others, we must express it not in the way we oppress others, but in the way we use our talents to help others. Someone once said, never look down on anyone unless when you are admiring their shoes. Jesus concludes today, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Remember, “Pride” they say “goes before a fall.”