Tassels, Tip-Offs and Trader Joe’s. Homily for 31st Sunday Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus talks about phylacteries and tassels. What exactly are they?

Phylacteries (or Tefillin) meaning “to guard, protect,” are a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. They are worn by male observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. They contained 4 parchments with 4 Scripture readings, namely Exodus 13:1–10, Exodus 13:11–16, Deuteronomy 11:13–21 and Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (See specific passages below)

Tassels (or Tzitzit) are specially knotted ritual fringes, worn in antiquity by Israelites and today by observant Jews attached to the four corners of the tallit (prayer shawl) and tallit katan (everyday undergarment).

The Scripture passages located in the phylacteries were physically located near to the believer (on their forehead and arm and pointing towards the heart) so that the Word would be the foundation for a particular type of physical behavior. This behavior, in turn was to be physically seen by others, thus identifying the believer a a follower of God so that they would be a witness as to what God’s children looked like and acted like. When you happened to notice the tassels, it was to function as a personal reminder what you were and whose you were, again sop that your actions would be seen by others and they would admire and give glory to the god you worshipped. Thus, the tassels (and phylacteries) were supposed to be “the tip off towards tip top behavior.” This is what irked Jesus. The religious leaders keep focusing on, and emphasizing the symbols but ironically, their behavior is deplorable.

In his video “Our IQ tells us how much capacity we have” Bishop T. D. Jakes recalls a conversation he had on the Dr. Phil show. They were talking about IQ or “intelligence quotient” which is the amount of intellectual capacity you possess. The two also were discussing EQ or “emotional quotient.” EQ measures your emotional intelligence or your capacity to identify your emotions and the emotions of others, as well as the capacity to manage your emotions and the emotions of others when you’re involved in a particular situation. (See Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves for an explanation and and excellent drills to increase your EI) Finally, Dr. Phil spoke about AQ or “Adaptability Quotient” which measures your capacity to adjust and adapt when situations change.

Why is this important to you?

You have a purpose. God has given you a mission to a person or group of people at this time in a particular place. Nevertheless, when you begin to try to fulfill that mission, it is guaranteed that you are going to meet with adversity - on account of your own “stuff,” as a result of other people’s “stuff,” from the hand of God, perhaps as part of the work of the devil or the result of Original Sin.


Fear not however. God has also given you capacities to accomplish that mission. God calls you to use the capacities of intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence and adaptability intelligence to handle the situation when challenges arise.

Then Bishop Jakes delivers the punch line - “A ministry can only function to the level of its perception.” People are watching! They are making judgement as to whether you can handle the situation. And if they perceive that you cannot handle the situation, the mission that was assigned to you by God will fail because “a ministry can only function to the level of its perception.”

This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees were ineffective. People were watching them. They suspected that they were frauds and probably went to Jesus and asked, “Should we do what they tell us to do?” What did Jesus say? Absolutely. “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.” Their authority and jurisdiction and power to help in your sanctification has been given by God. You fight them, you are fighting God Himself. “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you.”

And then Jesus adds, “…but do not follow their example.”

What are your Tassels - and how are they working? What are your phylacteries - how are you utilizing them to achieve your mission? It might be a cross around your neck. It might be a Knight of Columbus pin. It could be the ashes you wear on Ash Wednesday. God will set up the meeting where someone asks you about it. Be ready to say something. As Pope Francis recently tweeted, The Church needs faithful people who proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm and wisdom, instilling hope and faith.

Homework - If someone asks you about a religious article you wear or something you mentioned or something that you do, prepare your…

  1. “Elevator Speech” (30 seconds) Tell them that you’re a follower of Christ, that you do that as a Catholic and why that is important to you.
  2. “Trader Joe’s Talk” (5 minutes). Have something to say about your parish, Pope Francis, your faith journey, etc… if the conversation goes longer. At the end invite them to a the “Kaffee Klatch.”
  3. “Kaffee Klatch” a longer, in-depth conversation at breakfast, coffee, cocktail, etc… Pray about this before hand. Let the Holy spirit guide you.

Audio version of the homily is here:












There’s a Jewish folk-tale which runs something like this:

There once was a young man who aspired to great holiness. After some time at working to achieve it, he went to see his Rabbi.

“Rabbi,” he announced, “I think I have achieved sanctity.”

“Why do you think that?” asked the Rabbi.

“Well,” responded the young man, “I’ve been practising virtue and discipline for some time now and I have grown quite proficient at them. From the time the sun rises until it sets, I take no food or water. All day long, I do all l do all kinds of hard work for others and I never expect to be thanked.

“If I have temptations of the flesh, I roll in the snow or in thorn bushes until they go away, and then at night, before bed, I practice the ancient monastic discipline and administer lashes to my bare back. I have disciplined myself so as to become holy.”

The Rabbi was silent for a time. Then he took the young man by the arm and led him to a window and pointed to an old horse which was just being led away by its master.

“I have been observing that horse for some time,” the Rabbi said, “and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get fed or watered from morning to night. All day long it has to do work for people and it never gets thanked. I often see it rolling around in snow or in bushes, as horses are prone to do, and frequently I see it get whipped.

“But, I ask you: Is that a saint or a horse?”

This is a good parable because it shows how simplistic it is to simply identity sanctity and virtue with self-renunciation and the capacity to do what’s difficult. In popular thought there’s a common spiritual equation: saint=horse. What’s more difficult is always better. But that can be wrong.

To be a saint is to be motivated by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less. Scripture, everywhere and always, makes this point.





Your SPOUSE will see the difference. They will ask you, “When are you going on that retreat again?”

Why do you want to want to continue to drown in the swamp of the world. Why do you remain absolutely

What is consuming your thoughts - that is your prayer! That is the god, at whose altar you are worship.

What really is THE priority in your life. You have a purpose. You are a conduit to God’s grace in the world in November 2017, probably in your neighborhood. That’s called “mission.” Mission is more than spouse - job - parent - kids activities.

Humility is not admitting that you are weak and need help. Humility is knowing that you are talented, and that you have skills, and you want to hone those skills to become greater and make an impact and make a difference. Better spouse, better parent, better at your place of work, better at what you are doing for your kids.


If you aren’t sure, ask me. If you need a word, ask me.

Small groups. Get a few friends to decide to treat and support each other and pull/push each other to do this. Try it once. See if it works. If not, then you’re off the hook. Is so, do it again and bring someone else into the group

Take a vacation. You will only realize afterwards how badly you needed this.

It’s not just spiritual. It’s physical. It’s emotional/ psychological therapeutic. You are distracted. Whatever distraction is not sufficient, Satan will provide the rest. The devil will do everything to distract you by presenting subtitle, noble, reasonable

Jesus is the King of Kings but Satan is the prince of the world. A retreat takes you away from Satan’s world - if only for a brief moment.


The priests in this reading neglected their duty and are responsible for the erosion of faith among the people. In general what do you think are some contemporary issues that erode people’s faith? In particular what erodes your faith? What increases your faith?



We all struggle to align what we do with what we say. What is at stake is not only our own integrity but also the well-being of (others)




Lord I offer you:

My thoughts - to be centered in you,

My words - to speak of you,

My actions - to do your will,

My sufferings - offered up for your sake.


Teach me how how:

Trivial worldly interests are,

Momentous the Kingdom,

Brief temporal concerns are,

Lasting life eternal.


Exodus 13:1–10 - And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Sanctify to Me all the first-born, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of animal, it is Mine.’ And Moses said to the people: ‘Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. This day you go forth in the Spring month. And it shall be when the LORD shall bring you into the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, which He swore unto your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and no leavened bread shall be seen with you, neither shall there be leaven seen with you, in all your borders. And so shall you tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign for you upon your hand, and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand has the LORD brought you out of Egypt. You shalt therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.

Exodus 13:11–16 — When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanite, as He swore unto you and to your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the LORD all that opens the womb; every firstborn animal shall be the LORD’S. Every firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a sheep, and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and all the first-born of man among your sons shall you redeem. And when your son asks you in time to come, saying: What is this? say to him: By strength of hand the LORD bring us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage; and when Pharaoh found it hard to let us go the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of animals; therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, and redeem all my first-born sons. And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and as “totafot” between your eyes; for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 6:4–9, “The Shema.” Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; and teach them thoroughly to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down, and when you get up. And tie them for a sign upon your hand, and let them be “totafot” between your eyes. And write them on the door-posts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 11:13–21 - If you listen to My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give the rain of your land in its season, the early and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Take care for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of the LORD be lit against you, and He shut up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground not yield her fruit; and you be quickly lost from off the good land which the LORD gives you. Put these words of Mine on your heart and on your soul; tie them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be “totafot” between your eyes. Teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And write them on the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates; so that your days, and those of your children, may be multiplied upon the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth.





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