Date: Sunday, November 05, 2017
When I served on the Southern Tier people in the community, apart from parishioners, would call me “pastor”. It was a term of respect and, for some, it enable the person addressing me to avoid using the title: “Father”. I took no offense. Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew says to his disciples and the crowd: “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”
Context is important to understand the words of Jesus. Some scribes and Pharisees have been testing and challenging Jesus. Scribes are scholars of Jewish religious law, the Torah. Pharisees are devoted Jews who publicly live the law with all the qualifying rules and regulations. Jesus explains that he agrees with their avowed purpose of keeping the law but he takes exception to their making the law a burden, for not practicing what they preach, for their public show of piety, for seeking places of honor and titles of respect.
Remember when a scholar of the Law asks Jesus for the greatest commandment, Jesus answers: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and prophets depend on these commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40) For Jesus the two essential principles of the law are reverence to God and respect for one’s neighbor. Jesus comes not to diminish the importance of the Torah but to fulfill it.
We are Pharisees when we are rigorous in applying law without mention of God’s mercy. We are Pharisees when we preach but fail to practice what we say. We are Pharisees when we show our piety so others can see. We are Pharisees when we look for recognition and seek privilege. What Jesus says in our Gospel today in a direct and pointed way to uncover hypocrisy, Micah, the Jewish prophet, captures succinctly: “Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.”