Sunday Scripture Readings

thirty-first sunday

in ordinary time,

november 3

Malachi 1:14, 2:2, 8-10; Psalm 131;

1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

OUR GOOD NEWS: "Call no one 'Father.'" Jesus' audience for today's parable uncharacteristically included both un-committed "crowd" and faithful "disciples." His message thus concerns historical Israel as well as the Church. "Pharisees" belonged to a lay group dedicated to careful observance of the Mosaic Law. "Scribes" here designates their scholar-experts. As legitimate successors of Moses, "sitting in his seat," their authoritative teaching about details of Jewish living commanded obedience. In metaphorical language Jesus accused Israel's religious authorities of imposing heavy obligations difficult to obey. These were based on oral tradition which amplified written (biblical) law. Jesus condemned their lack of compassion, shown in unwillingness to interpret and apply laws in a way that made obedience possible as well as less onerous. "All their works are preformed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues, and marks of respect in public." Such childish behavior strikes us as ridiculous and laughable - like circus clown cops with oversized badges and night sticks, like grown-ups playing musical chairs at dinner parties and religious services - insecure men pathetically dependent upon insincere flattery and constant attention. Jesus however was not amused. As prophetic peacemaker he challenges those who pervert religion into opportunity for personal honor, glory and power (contrast Paul, second reading). Matthew intended Jesus' terse commands threatening judgment for misuse of authority as applying to Christians no less than Pharisees and their followers ("As for you..."). Avoid the title "rabbi." Jesus here forbade three honorific titles from usage in his Church, not from legalistic objections but because they undermine our unique relationship with God and himself. All of us without exception remain lifelong disciple-"learners" under Jesus, our sole normative teacher. No one ever "graduates" to become an autonomous "rabbi" teachings in his or her own name. "Do not call anyone on earth your father." In its Aramaic form Abba, "Father" expresses Jesus' unique relationship with God, a sacred name that is every believer's privilege to use by right of Baptism. "Avoid being called teachers." Master/teacher applies only to the Messiah, sole spiritual director and guide of our conscience. Leaders should set example of selfless service instead of self-aggrandizement, in imitation of the Servant Jesus who brings us together as God's family. Those objecting to calling priests "Father" should note that Paul and other early Christian writers thought of themselves as fathers to their congregations and converts (for example, 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; John 2:18).

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