The Responsibility of Religious Leaders
Today’s liturgy of the Word draws our attention to the responsibility of religious leaders, what is expected of them and the gravity of their guilt in misleading and misdirecting the people they are called to lead. Jesus makes a strong criticism against the scribes and Pharisees accusing them of preaching but not practicing what they preach.
In recent years, there is nothing that illustrates as vividly the abuse of power and gross negligent in the church like the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. It left everyone with shame, hurt, pain and anger, to say the least. The stench of this sin reeked all the way from the top of the hierarchy to the church members in the pews. With this backdrop, the message of Jesus speaks so eloquently about the necessity for good leadership and authentic witness of God’s message.
The call to conversion, renewal and reform have never been so strong and clear. The gospel contains some of Jesus’s strongest words against the scribes and Pharisees, which is still relevant. He speaks to us today, and in profound ways to the Christian leaders who have been entrusted with the task of witnessing faith in society. All Christians are called to cultivate a humble spirit and way of life. Christian leadership has an even greater responsibility in our modern society with a culture drowning in sin and death.
Jesus reminded his audience that it was so important to obey the Law, which passed from Moses, to Joshua, the elders, scribes, and Pharisees. Insofar that the scribes and Pharisees uphold and teach the great principles of the Law, which Moses received from God, we ought to obey it. In last Sunday’s gospel, they asked Jesus which is the greatest of the commandments. He replied to them “love God with all your mind, soul and heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” He said to them that the whole Law depends on these two.
Jesus forebodes rules and regulations that makes it impossible to show reverence for God, for God’s name, for God’s Day, and for parents God has given to us. The law demands respect for a man’s life, his possessions, his personality, for his good name, and for oneself. These are eternal principles; they are binding and should be taught and obeyed. Religious leaders must adhere to these fundamental principles. Religion is meant to help people and lift them up, not to cause depression, degradation and piling burdens.
Jesus offers us a new perspective about religion. Religion should be like wings to lift us up, not a deadweight to drag you down. Religion should bring joy and not depression. It should help us and not be hunted by it. A true religion should not be a depressing affair of burdens and prohibitions. Saint Paul sums it up beautifully: “We were gentle among you, as nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well …” (1 Thes 2:7)
Grace and Peace to You,
Fr. Vitalis Anyanike