JESUS’ CRITICISMS OF THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS OF HIS TIME ALSO SERVE FOR US TODAY – PRIESTS, PASTORS, PARENTS, GROUP LEADERS, ETC.
First Reading: Isaiah 1:10,16-20
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 49(50):8-9,16-17,21,23
Gospel Reading: Matthew 23:1-12
Taking criticism can be a difficult thing. It can actually be hard to deal with; after all, it seems nobody likes to be told they’re wrong. Today’s gospel narrative is one of those biblical texts that makes me somewhat uncomfortable as a ‘religious leader’, that is, as a minister of the Word and Sacraments. This very text makes me evaluate myself and seek ways to improve better and not be like the Scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus criticized at his time.
First, Jesus respects and admits the fact that the scribes and the Pharisees occupied the chair of Moses, and as such he encourages his followers to listen to what they said and act upon it. But since they were failing in their duties as religious leaders, Christ exhorts his followers not to be guided by what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. This has a lot to do with us today. Many a time, I hear some persons say that their Pastors or Priests are not living up to their calling or probably wayward, as such, they would stop listening to them or stop going to Church. This is actually the worst mistake one can ever make – preventing oneself from accessing the Sacramental graces because of a wayward religious leader, inasmuch as the scandal reflected by the wayward religious leader could be overwhelmingly strong.
Criticizing further, Christ said that the Pharisees and Scribes tied up heavy burdens and laid them on men’s shoulders, but they lifted no finger to move them. And that everything they did was to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi. This was the context in which Christ admonished his followers not to call them Rabbi, nor Father nor Teacher because they were not living up to expectations. Although, there are numerous references to the usage of the word “father.” In Acts 7:2-4, Stephen refers to the ancestors of Abraham, the word “father” being used. In Philippians 2:22, Paul said, “But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” St. Paul refers to himself as a spiritual father in Philemon 10. Again, Saint Paul refers to himself as the father of believers in 1 Corinthians 4;14-15. So, Jesus’ prohibition was most likely the use of hyperbole to criticize the Pharisees who set themselves up as authority instead of looking to God as the source of authority and truth. To refer to such people as fathers would be an inaccurate way of attributing fatherhood—or a particular kind or degree of fatherhood—to those who do not deserve it. For Christ, they had lost their position as fathers, teachers, rabbis, etc.
Dear friends in Christ, at one point or the other, we have served as fathers or teachers, models or particular leaders of certain religious groups; it is expected that we live up to expectations and not lead others astray and consequently lose our positions. Although, we may not all be in a position of authority; however, many people look up to us for inspiration, support, and strength. Thus, this season of Lent offers us an opportunity to grow deeper in virtue in order to be worthy of emulation. Little wonder God in the First Reading clearly exhorts: “Wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrongdoing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.” For the many times we have paid lip service to God – ‘merely reciting his commandments on our lips and throwing his words to the wind’ (as seen in today’s responsorial Psalm), we pray and ask for the grace to begin anew. The time to be renewed is now – the acceptable time, the day of salvation.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Medeiros, São Paulo, Brazil
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PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?