Homily for the thirty-first Sunday in the year

Year A  -  Mt. 23:1-12


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, «The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.»"



Homily:


"Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, «The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.»"

In the gospel we read today, we find Jesus reproaching the scribes and Pharisees for teaching the people to observe the Law of Moses in a way that is too ritualistic and materialistic.   In fact, the scribes and Pharisees no longer taught the people the true Law of Moses, but instead they imposed their own ordinances upon them.  It was no longer Moses who taught the people, but rather the scribes and Pharisees who dictated their own laws to them:  "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat."

Jesus' reproach refers not to the fact that men taught the People of God on religious matters, but rather the fact that these same men taught the People of God in their own name instead of in the name of God, as Moses did.  Indeed, Moses was a prophet, which is to say that he spoke in God's name, and he communicated to the chosen People what God had told him in spirit or in a vision.  Moses did not teach the People of God in his own name, for, contrary to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' time, he was one with the Lord whose ordinances he practiced throughout his life.  Moses truly spoke in the name of God, for he, the Prophet, did not resemble those who "preach, but do not practice."

"«They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.»"

The man of God, he who is charged by God, through his vocation, to teach the People of God, is not a man who lives for his own sake:  on the contrary, he is a man who lives for God and for the People of God.  For, as a prophet, the man of God is an intermediary ; we can call him a "mediator" between God and men.  Of course, there is only one mediator between God and men:  Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).  But the Savior of men, by his grace, that is to say, in a way that is completely free, by an act of the superabundance of his mercy, has called to himself other men destined to spread across the earth, all over the world, until the end of time, the Good News of Salvation, the fruit of his Passion and of his Resurrection from among the dead.  Thus, being but
one with Christ, the one mediator, these men of God are themselves, by grace, in a wholly spiritual manner, mediators in Christ, through the Spirit.  The man of God must be a spiritual man, because otherwise he is not truly a man of God, and he would become similar to these scribes and Pharisees about whom Jesus said, "They do all their deeds to be seen by men . . ."

"«But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.»"

If the man of God, he who is charged with the instruction of the People of God, is a spiritual man who is one with God, then if he were to declare himself to be "Rabbi" or "Master" or even "Father", these titles would not refer to him:  on the contrary, all these titles and appellations would refer to God himself!  There is a man of God who is at the head of the Church, and as Roman Catholics, following a very long tradition, we call him the Pope, which is to say "papa", or "father".  We often call him "Holy Father", or even "Most Holy Father".  The gospel passage we are discussing does not at all forbid the use of the appellations "Father" or "Holy Father".  But these words of the Lord tell us precisely under what conditions a man may be called such:  he must truly be a man of God and live according to his teachings, and not be like the scribes and Pharisees who "preach, but do not practice."  The Pope, he who is the highest of the teachers of the People of God, cannot truly exercise his ministry in a fruitful way unless he is truly a man of God, a "holy" father, united to God in Christ, through the Spirit.

"«He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.»"

A mediator does not exist except in virtue of the extremes he unites, and he exists solely to realize the union of these same extremes.  The man of God is like this.  He does not live for himself:  he lives for God, to whom he listens with all the attention he can develop;  he lives for the People of God whom he teaches in the name of God, by trying to be truly a Father to each man and woman put into his care.  The man of God must be a servant:  he must be at the service of the Word of God, he must be a prophet, faithfully communicating to the People of God what he himself has received from God.  The Word of God is a food, and the man of God is at its service, to break it, share it, and distribute it to all the children of God, the sons and daughters for whom Mary, who is the Mother of Jesus, is also their Mother in Christ, through the Spirit.