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Youth Ministry Resources - 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year A: Matthew 23:1-12 - They do not practice what they preach - 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

This chapter concludes what has been, a sustained attack on the leadership of the Scribes and Pharisees. For these last few weeks of Ordinary Time we will hear Jesus speaking to his disciples preparing them for what lies ahead. Jesus does not couch his last attack on the Jewish leaders in diplomatic language; he calls them hypocrites and warns the people about their behaviour.

Jesus is addressing the people and his disciples but Matthew's audience is his own community who are greatly influenced by Jewish leadership. Jesus acknowledges that the Jewish leaders have great enthusiasm for the teachings of Moses and the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus encourages the people to accept those teachings but warns them not to follow the way the Jewish leaders live out these teachings.

The Jewish leaders were also adding heavy burdens to the interpretation of the Torah that were making people's lives difficult and worship of God is not about burdening people. By contrast Jesus proclaims that "I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full" so if the religious teachings were not life giving, they were not of God, they were of men. We hear echoes of Jesus' invitation to "come to me all you who are heavily burdened…my yoke is light."

So there is a clear differentiation between the burdens laid upon the people by the Jewish leaders and the lifting of burdens by Jesus. Matthew writes for his community who were defining themselves against the Jewish leadership of their time and showing that their "Teacher" remains the greatest of all time.

The words of Jesus remain a challenge for us because religious hypocrisy remains a problem today. We are called "practising Catholics" for a good reason, we are practising, so as to understand, the teachings of Jesus, it means that we have not got it quite right yet. It is worth reflecting on whether we draw attention to ourselves by numerous genuflections or throwing ourselves on our knees so as to appear overly pious, or drawing attention to any of our good deeds.

Jesus consistently asks for "servant leadership" where so much of what we do is done quietly and any adulation is directed towards God or the community. There are any number of people who are quietly and peacefully transforming those around them and they contrast those who criticise Readers, Extraordinary Ministers or anyone who does not do things the way they have decided they should be done. Our question remains - are we transformed into children of the light through our religious experience or are we insisting on more and more burdens, tests and genuflections to "prove" that others are worthy?

Cate Mapstone

Year C: Luke 19:1-10 - Zacchaeus up the tree - 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tax collectors were not the most popular of people in 1st C Israel. They worked for the Romans and collected money from the Jews. More often than not the tax collectors were Jews themselves and so were marginalised in a society based on honour and shame. Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector and so he was even more estranged. Yes, he could buy some friends but he could not buy respect.

Zacchaeus was keen to see Jesus and was not concerned about making himself look silly by climbing a tree to achieve this. Certainly no one in the crowd would be prepared to make way for him. Of all the people who had come out to see Jesus, Zacchaeus is chosen by Jesus and no doubt there would have been many good people in the crowd. Jesus has made it clear that he has come for the lost and the excluded. "This man too is a son of Abraham." Zacchaeus responded immediately to Jesus and the sincerity of his transformation is seen in the extent of his restitution. This does not stop the 'murmuring' of the crowd. Is it a case of jealousy? Are they judging Jesus as ignorant of Zacchaeus' behaviour? Are they seeing themselves as better than Zacchaeus and so more deserving of the attention of Jesus?

So the question becomes "who is more in need of conversion?" Because of Zacchaeus' acceptance of Jesus and his changes to his life, salvation has come to his household. The presence of Jesus makes possible what is humanly impossible. Zacchaeus becomes respectable because Jesus has come to save the lost. Righteous people can become so caught up in their own respectability that they miss out on opportunities of transformation, situations where God is offering salvation 'today' and not be aware of their own need for conversion. We need to ask who we are excluding - from our families, from our friends, from our inner-circles in our work places. Do we make some people buy our respect by forcing them to agree with our positions or stances? Are we prepared to 'go out on a limb' in the hope that Jesus will stop nearby and offer us salvation TODAY.

Cate Mapstone

Youth Ministry Resources 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
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Youth Ministry Resources 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time