CALL NO MAN ON EARTH FATHER!
Perhaps one of the difficulties when we hear this passage of the Gospel lies in this line: Call no man on earth your father. I am sure at times some people say: Hey, you Catholics call priests, bishops and the popes fathers. You contradict yourselves to Christ’s teaching.
Well, how will you answer this question? We will come back to this a little bit later.
One of the important principles we ought to keep in mind is that when we read a verse in the Bible, we have to read it in its context. Taking a verse out of its context and interpreting it as if it had nothing to do with other verses is doing injustice to that verse and sometimes causing damages. For example, the sentence: “I hate you!” would only have a negative meaning when it stands alone. But if we have a context for this sentence, for instance, someone makes you laugh a lot because of his many jokes. You laugh so much that your belly even gets hurt, and in your laughing you say to that person: “I hate you.” See, the context makes a difference to the meaning of that sentence.
By the same token, we have to consider what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel in its proper context. Jesus is addressing to the crowds and his disciples about the problem of pride of the scribes and Pharisees. They see themselves as superior to other people. Therefore, all that Jesus is saying: “Don’t be called ‘Rabbi; Call no one on earth your father; Do not be called ‘Master’” must be put into the context of the last sentences:
“The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
In other words, Jesus is asking his disciples to be humble in their service. They should direct the attention of those they serve to God alone who deserves all honor and glory, not to themselves. Seeking self-glory is what Jesus asks his disciples to be careful about here.
In the same flow of thought, let’s revisit the question about calling or not calling someone on earth father. Surely Jesus is not asking his disciples to stop calling their parent father or mother. In the letters of St. Paul to the Corinthians and Philippians (1 Co. 4:15; Phil. 10), he calls himself a Father to those whose conversion he had been an instrument of; but he pretends to no dominion over them, and uses that title to denote, not authority, but affection: therefore he calls them not his obliged, but his beloved, sons.
To sum up, what is important here is not so much of the word “father”, but of the attitude behind the title. The command of Jesus here for his disciples, including ourselves, is to be humble in service and not to seek any glory for ourselves when we serve others.
Today, I specifically ask you to pray for me so that I can be humble in my service. Let us pray for one another that all we do, we do for the glory of God and the good of others.
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.