By Monika Manser
The most frequent way of praying that Saint Ignatius uses is that of imagining ourselves in a Gospel scene. We imagine ourselves as a character in the story. We take part in the story, seeing Jesus and all the other people, being aware of what’s going on and how we are feeling. The purpose of praying with the imagination is to allow Christ in the Scripture to speak to us. To bring the Gospel stories to life for us. We are not trying to recreate history. It doesn’t matter if your imagination takes the story off in a different direction to the Scripture. It doesn’t matter if the story takes place in 1st century Palestine or where we live now in the 21st century. What is important is what God wants to say to us through this passage.
Let us sit and relax so that together we can contemplate the Gospel using our imagination.
We acknowledge we are in the presence of God so let us say together:
Direct O Lord and guide and influence all that is happening in my mind and heart during this time of prayer: all my moods and feelings, my memories and imaginings; my hopes and desires; may all be directed and influenced to your greater glory, praise and service and to my growth in your Spirit.
Let the Spirit enter our hearts and enlighten our minds to enable us to reflect on whether we preach the Gospel not so much by what we say but in the way we live our lives.
Then addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, “The Scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously 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 exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In today’s Gospel, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, St Matthew continues to point out the increasing tensions between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. However, in this passage Jesus is not addressing the Scribes and Pharisees but the crowds. Let us enter the scene and listen to Jesus criticising the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and explaining to his disciples how they should follow his teachings.
Who are you in the scene? One of the disciples? One of the people? Perhaps a Scribe or a Pharisee? Someone following Jesus? Someone who is not mentioned in the passage?
- Where does this address take place? In the Temple? In a public space? In a room? In the open air?
- Why are you there? Are you with Jesus? Is he instructing you? Are you just passing by? Is there a crowd of people?
- Look around you? What are the people doing? Look at the expressions on their faces? What about the expression on Jesus’ face.
Are you surprised when Jesus starts by affirming that the Scribes and Pharisees occupy the seat of Moses and therefore must be respected and their teachings obeyed? How do you feel about those in authority like the Scribes and Pharisees? Do you respect their authority?
Are you more surprised when Jesus tells us that although they should be listened to their actions should not be followed? Do you ever feel burdened by rules which are near impossible to follow? Does this make you resent the Law and those who preach it? Do you yearn for more spiritual freedom with God at its centre as opposed to the Law at its centre?
As you listen to Jesus do you wonder if there anything of the Pharisee in you? Jesus said that the Pharisees like to be noticed by wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels. Do you tend to live for show, always worried about what others think of you?
Jesus said that the Pharisees like to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares. Do you like to be noticed? Do you ever feel that there are times you deserve more recognition, thanks and appreciation for what you do?
Jesus said that the Pharisees like people to call them Rabbi? Do you like your title? Do you see that what Jesus is attacking is not the Scribes and Pharisees per se but certain attitudes?
Do you realise that Jesus is reminding that real authority lies in service and not in controlling others? That authority is not for power but to empower and enable others especially those who need our help? That authority is all about love and not control? That to be a disciple of Jesus is to give up all expectations of honour and glory?.
Speak to Jesus what is going on in your mind and heart regarding authority and power and to give you guidance about how to become a true disciple of his.
Let us now share what we thought, felt etc. only if you are comfortable to do so.
Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Scripture texts: from the Jerusalem Bible 1966 by Dartington Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday and Company Ltd