‘Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled’

Thirty-first Sunday of the Year A

Jesus words in today’s reading reminds us that all people, including religious leaders, can be seduced by status. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.

Matthew 23:1-12

1 Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. 3 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 practise what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! 5 Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, 6 like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, 7 being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.
8 ‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. 9 You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you must be your servant. 12 Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Other readings: Malachi 1:14 - 2:2, 8-10 Psalm 130 (131) 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13


This chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew is notable for the strong verbal attacks of Jesus on the scribes and Pharisees. To our shame the words of Jesus in this chapter have been used in the past to encourage hatred of the Jews. In modern times the Church has made it abundantly clear that Christians should treasure their relationship with the Jewish people, who have rightly been called ‘our elder brothers and sisters in faith’.

In every age, and probably in every religion, religious leadership has gone astray and failed to live up to high ideals. Today’s words from the prophet Malachi accuse the priests of straying from the true path and causing many to stumble.

We need religious leaders to guide and direct us, but, as in the days of Jesus, religious leaders can be seduced by status. They can covet places of honour and elaborate vestments. Christians leaders can lose sight of the example of Christ.

Jesus’ example is one of humble service. He is the true rabbi, teacher and master. All of us are called to follow in humility the one who came to serve and to make our journey with him towards the fulness of God’s life.

Do I take inappropriate pride in the trappings of my Christian life?

Am I ready to humble myself, and is my spirit truly dedicated to Christ?

We pray for religious leaders that they may behave with sincerity and integrity at all times.

We pray for those who are led astray by status and pomposity.

INT-IMG_5349 Fr Adrian Graffy (3)Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.

Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”

He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”

Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).

Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy