Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees
Do our words couple with our practice? In today’s gospel Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for their showy practices. By any means they want to be good models of observant Jews. As we see how well they observe all the ritual rules and regulations of Judaism. But sad to say, their good intentions are watered down because they seek respect and honor for themselves and not for the glory of God and for His words. They want the people to treat them as great teachers and rulers and like to be called, ‘Rabbi,’ ‘Master,’ ‘Father.’ But unfortunately, their practice of their faith is a burden rather than a joy for the people they are supposed to serve. They are not aware of the harm they are forcing on people.
Jesus rejects these three honorary titles (vv. 8-12): “Rabbi, “Father” and “Master.” Is He against calling anyone like these? Or is He just directing this sharp rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees? This prohibition must not be understood literally but to put it in its context. If we literally understand this prohibition and out of context, then this means that we should not call our physician, ‘doctor’ or anyone, ‘mister’; or our physical father or our spiritual father, the priest, ‘father.’ What Jesus against is for Christians to use titles for mere ostentation, arrogance or pomposity. But that Jesus wants anyone to acknowledge that any fatherhood that one might have is God and from whom earthly fatherhood derives.
In our daily life, we tend to imitate the scribes and Pharisees. We are so overzealous in doing things and fail to realize we do more damage than good to our neighbors. We are also hurt and saddened by the sinfulness of our Church’s leaders. Obviously, we should never condone their sins and our fellow believers or ourselves but perhaps we should confront the problem, not with resignation, but positively and in a wider perspective and possibly even sometimes with a touch of humor. Let us not hinder or negate Christ’s redemptive work through the Church by condemning her or even leaving her, simply because of the sins of her bishops, priests, lay leaders or others.
Just like this experience of a priest as told in his homily that one day while he was riding on an FX van he was surprised to hear these words from a lady in front of him who said: “Mag-iiglesia ako. Matagal ng di ako nagsimba sa katoliko. Pangit ang kilos ng mga namumuno.” He wondered if the leaders of the Iglesia were any better. Or is the institution better or greater than the sinners who occupy it?
That is why our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to possess godly humility and simplicity of heart just like Him. The Holy Spirit reveals to us this humility of Jesus who is meek and humble of heart. He stripped himself, St Paul says, of his divinity for our sake (Cf. Philippians 2:5-11). He embraced the humiliation of our human condition, of the cross, for our redemption. No one as great as Christ has ever walked this earth or ever will. No one as humble as Christ has ever walked this earth or ever will.
And also the word disciple means one who listens in order to learn. Jesus shows us the way to the Father — the way of peace, joy, righteousness, holiness, and true happiness. He shows us the way by lowering Himself as a servant for our sake. He humbled Himself, even to death on a cross, that we might be raised up and exalted at the Father’s right hand in heaven (Phil. 2:1-11).