Gospel for Saturday, August 20th
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:1-12
Today’s gospel brought up some questions for me. I consider myself pretty well versed in the Catholic faith. When I read the words of Jesus, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven,” I choked! Many Christian faiths challenge Catholics on this point, as we call our priests “father.” I was not sure of the correct response to this. I did some research at “Catholic Answers,” a Catholic apologetics website, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s page on this subject. There are no brief answers. I have to tell you that I read the explanations as taught by the Magesterium of the Church. They made sense to me. I’d like to share my understanding here.
First of all, we have to look at this passage in context. Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and the scribes who are not practicing what they preach. They were not humble. They elevated themselves, believing they were so much better than everyone else because they followed the “letter of the law” religiously. They were not compassionate and loving as Christ taught his followers to be. Jesus was condemning them for putting themselves on par with God. If that passage were meant literally, then we couldn’t call our biological dads “father” either. It’s elevating human beings to the status of God that is forbidden here.
Later in the bible, there are many references to the apostles and other leaders being called by these titles that Matthew’s passage seems to forbid. When Jesus was teaching about the necessity of being born again to Nicodemus, he affirmed that Nicodemus was a teacher: “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?” John 3:10
Jesus himself says in Luke 16:24: “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.”
In 1 Corinthians, Paul calls himself “father” in addressing the people of Corinth. “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Was he disobeying his beloved Jesus’ command? Or was the command not to be taken literally? Was this passage meant to be read at surface value, or was there a much deeper message here?