Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 5:20)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday February 16 2020
“A former Sergeant in the Marine Corps took a new job as a high school teacher. Just before the school year started, he injured his back. He was required to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. Fortunately, the cast fit under his shirt and wasn’t noticeable.
“On the first day of class, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in the school. The smart-aleck punks, having already heard the new teacher was a former Marine, were leery of him, and he knew they would be testing his discipline in the classroom.
“Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, the new teacher opened the window wide and sat down at his desk. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he picked up a stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.
“The silence was deathly. The rest of the year went very smoothly.” (Original source unknown)
I still have the occasional nightmare of being unable to tame a rowdy classroom—and I haven’t stood before a class of high school students since 1981. But, like the retired Marine sergeant, I gained the upper hand with a simple ploy.
Early on, a neighborly fellow teacher taught me a maneuver that proved most effective. Rather than raise my voice above the din, without speaking a word or even casting a harsh glance, I’d run my fingernails the length of the chalkboard at the front of the classroom. Their teeth set on edge, teenage squeals of revulsion were instantaneous. I only had to use the ploy once. On successive days when things were approaching rowdiness, all I had to do was threaten to repeat the maneuver. Outstretched fingers against the board brought instant and complete silence.
Indeed, like the Marine stapling his tie to his concealed cast, I’d gained the upper hand with a ploy, though mine was not nearly as dramatic. I’d have to admit, though, that I was in awe of my fellow teachers who gained control—and respect, too—without the use of such creative ploys. They had something I didn’t, and I knew it was more than age. I envied them.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 5:20) That is, Jesus advises his followers to exercise authority by inspiring others to follow their good example, thereby gaining the respect of those given to their care. Indeed, the religious leaders of Jesus’ own day, the scribes and Pharisees, exercised authority through fear and intimidation, and we find multiple examples in the gospels of Jesus taking exception to their style of leadership. Don’t be like them, Jesus insistently tells his followers.
Centuries after Jesus, another disciple offered his own commentary on Christian leadership. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words only if necessary.” That is, example is the very best teacher. In our own day, another Francis seems intent on preaching the gospel more by example than words. Indeed, several years ago Pope Francis was hailed “Man of the Year,” less for anything he said, more for his compassionate care of the broken, battered and bruised.
But when Pope Francis has spoken, his words have been direct and forceful, his frequent audience those in leadership positions in the Church. His sometimes stinging words have been reminders to them that they risk becoming just like the scribes and Pharisees Jesus admonished in the gospels.
For sure, all of us who tend flocks must keep our eyes focused on the star which appeared over Bethlehem and continues to lead, day by day, toward the fulfillment of God’s holy kingdom here on this earth.