Many years ago, I read an article written by a pastor of a Christian church. In the article, the minister told the story of the time he was leading a funeral procession from the church to the cemetery. In that funeral procession, the minister was driving alone in his car, which was followed by the hearse and a long parade of cars. While leading this procession, he approached a K-Mart. When he saw the K-mart sign, he momentarily forgot about the procession that he was leading and remembered that his wife had asked him to stop and pick something up for her. He instinctively turned into the parking lot of the K-Mart, and he proceeded to drive up and down the aisles of parked cars looking for a parking space. After a few minutes he realized what he had done. He looked into his rear view mirror and saw the headlights of the hearse, followed by a long string of cars in the funeral procession, all winding their way along his path in the parking lot.
Can you imagine? That had to be embarrassing. A silly story; but a true one! It is a story that reminds us of the consequences of poor leadership.
The passages from the Book of Malachi (1:14-2:2, 8-10) and Gospel of Matthew (23:1-12) are both a rebuke to poor leadership.
Clearly, good and effective leadership is a required attribute for everyone, because, whether we are willing to admit it or not, whether we are willing to recognize it or not, each of us has an area of influence over someone else. Each and every one of us have been entrusted by God to lead and guide, in one way, shape or form.
Our reading from Malachi was written at the time in which the people of God had returned from exile. It was a joyous time for the people for they were not only permitted to return to their homeland, they were also able to resume liturgical worship at the Temple. But, in spite of their joy, it was a difficult time for them. For rebuilding a shattered land and rebuilding the Temple was not an easy task. Discouragement was spreading among the people and among their leaders like an infection.
In this reading, the prophet Malachi lashes out at the negligent priests for the job they have been doing as leaders and teachers of God’s word. Their God-given job was to teach the word of God by word and example. But they have not been living by the word that they preach. God says to them, “You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.” (Malachi 2:8) They have failed in their God-given task. A very serious accusation!
The Gospel lesson records for us the words of Jesus as he condemns the religious leaders of His time. Again, His remarks are very similar to those found in Malachi. Jesus tells the people to listen to the words that these leaders speak, but not to become like them and not to follow their example. Jesus admits that they are legitimate teachers of God’s word and worthy of being heeded. However, their conduct is not in harmony with their teaching and definitely not to be imitated.
Today’s scripture lessons illustrate the importance God places on living out the truth that we speak. Yes, it is important for us to “say” the right thing. But it is equally important for us to “do” the right thing. In effect, our actions reinforce the words that we speak. Jesus accused the Pharisees of His day, not of teaching falsehood, not of misinterpreting the scriptures, but of failing to live out those truths in their lives.
Such a breakdown between words and actions is unacceptable to God, and ineffective before the people. Children know this intuitively. For example, it does little good for a parent to instruct a child to be truthful if the child sees the parent lie. It is useless to teach a child work ethics if the parent is lazy. It is useless to teach religion and faithfulness to a child if the parents never attend Church or practice their faith.
A very wise person once said, “I would rather see a good sermon than hear one.”
God places just as much importance on our behavior as He does our words. We must never overlook the influence that our actions have on others.
My prayer, for each and every one of us, is that the world may see the truths of the Gospel, not only by the words that we speak, but also demonstrated by our example.
REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.