Friends, our Gospel for today focuses on the pitfalls and ideals of religious leadership. This is a week when priests, ministers, and preachers have to preach to themselves. Jesus turns his sharp eye and withering critique on the many ways that religious leaders fall into corruption.
It is hard to miss the practical application of these texts to our troubled time, a period when clerical corruption and misconduct has been vividly on display. Jesus makes a distinction of capital importance. “The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all the things they tell you.” The Lord reminds us that they do sit legitimately in teaching offices and that their teaching should be, accordingly, respected.
In the fourth century, St. Augustine faced the challenge of the Donatists. They claimed that only pure and morally upright priests could legitimately dispense the sacraments. Augustine said, no, the personal evil of a minister does not compromise the validity of what he does sacramentally.
This principle is of great significance. Augustine, in imitation of Christ, says that there can be evil men who do and teach the works of God.