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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Matthew 23, 1-12

Then addressing the crowds and his disciples Jesus said,

'The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses.

You must therefore do and observe what they tell you; but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practise what they preach.

They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they!

Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader headbands and longer tassels,

like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues,

being greeted respectfully in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.

'You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers.

You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.

Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ.

The greatest among you must be your servant.

Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

If you believe, you will see the glory of God,
thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Jesus is in the temple and preaches his last discourse to the crowds. On the one hand Jesus violently attacks the “scribes and Pharisees,” and on the other he urges the crowds not to let themselves be tricked by their teaching. He presents himself as their true shepherd who wants to keep the mercenaries away. Jesus does not attack their doctrines which, he actually says are just and should be protected. But the behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees is another thing. They demonstrate an empty and cold religiosity, made only of exterior practices. Jesus tells the crowds who listen to him that the scribes and Pharisees even broaden their phylacteries, which were little cases containing rolls of parchment with biblical passages. These were tied to their left arm and on their forehead, but did not bear any consequences in their lives. In fact, the origin of these phylacteries is suggestive: the Word of God should be remembered (the forehead) and put into practice (the arm). In truth, these had become only an exterior practice. Jesus then calls to mind the practice of making “their fringes long,” braids of fabric made of blue and purple drawstring placed at the four corners of the external robe. Even Jesus wore these. But exterior ostentation kills the interior meaning of the traditions. An analogous reflection should be made on the habit of the Pharisees to seek the first places at table and the first seats in the synagogues. From his position as the last, Jesus argues about the “academic” and official titles that the scribes and priests required of the people and the disciples. Among these Jesus highlights the most known: “rabbi” that is “my teacher.” Even in this case Jesus does not reject the mission of teaching; but he wants to underline the singularity of his Word. All believers are subject to the Gospel and this is the Word that we must listen to, proclaim, and live--always and everywhere. The Word of God generates faith in us, and from this Word comes God’s paternity over our lives. The Gospel, not our words or our plans, has authority over our lives. The temptation of the Pharisees is to bend the Word of God to suit their own ambitions and to an aged humanity, instead of seeking the opposite. It is the temptation of reducing the Gospel in such a way that it reassures our well-being and upholds our traditions as well as those of the world. Jesus denounces this temptation and asks us to do likewise. For this reason Jesus ends this passage by calling us to listen and to serve. Whoever wants to be great in the community must be the first to listen to the Gospel and put it into practice.

Sunday Vigil