Two Sides to the Coin of Ministry

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

All four of the Scriptures for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) paint us a picture, both negative and positive, of the priesthood. The psalmist and St. Paul speak of the attitudes which enhance the priesthood, while Malachi and the selection from the Gospel of St. Matthew have some unkind things to say. Although the readings speak directly to the members of the Church who are ordained ministers, the lessons they impart are important for all of us.

The Hebrew word "malachi" means "messenger." Although this name has endured through the ages and enjoys some popularity as a name for boys, the Scripture which it names is really anonymous. The sacred writer who penned this oracle writes after the exile and squarely pins the failure of Israel to honor the covenant relationship on the priests who failed to instruct Israel correctly. They became more interested in their function as ministers of animal sacrifice and failed to commit themselves to their roles as preachers and teachers. Even in the Temple they failed their responsibilities by offering "defective" or less than perfect animals on the altar of sacrifice rather than the animals without "blemish" or defect as the Law required. They failed to make the connection between their function at the altar and their role as teacher, thus failing to see the connection between the Law and the Temple sacrifice.

For the past four or five weeks, we have been reading of Jesus' confrontations with the scribes, the elders, the Pharisees, and the lawyers. These confrontations have angered these men as Jesus has boldly stated that the "vineyard" of Israel, left untended, will be given to others, a hard pill to swallow for those who consider themselves the Chosen.

The psalm speaks to us of the correct attitude for anyone of us, ordained or lay. We are to approach God with humility, with a sense of awe. Our relationship with God is compared to that of a weaned child sitting on its mother's lap. This particularly feminine image speaks to us of righteousness (right relationship) because it reminds us that when it comes to the sublime mystery of God, we are stumbling in the dark. Better to be led by God than to strike out on our own.

St. Paul continues this feminine image by referring to himself as a source of nurture. He has dealt with the Thessalonians as a nursing mother caring for her children. He has protected them, handing on to them that which he himself has received. His Gospel has nothing to do with himself and his role in the community and everything to do with the Christ who has been his inspiration.

For all of us, the readings remind us of a short prayer that I say before every celebration of the Eucharist. "I thank you, Lord Jesus, for the gifts with which I have been blessed. Help me to remember that they are to be used to build up your kingdom and to praise your name."

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