31st Sunday, Year A
The Gospel of this 31st Sunday of the Year A (Mt. 23:1-12) talks about the Lord’s invective against the hypocrisy and pride of the Scribes and Pharisees. Verse 9 draws attention: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven”. This text, unduly cited out of context, serves as a pretext to deny the title of “Father” to priests.
The framework of the text is as follows: to Christians Jesus was giving new teachers and new fathers starting with the apostles. In the New Covenant, rabbis, scribes and Pharisees will no longer be called “fathers” or “masters”.
However, in the New Testament, numerous verses (not cited in here!) advocate the paternal spirituality of the Apostles, and, therefore, their successors in priesthood of the New Covenant: in Eph. 3:14-15 we just read a phrase that seems to contradict Mt. 23:9: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Therefore, there is paternity on earth. There is no conflict whatsoever: there is no Pharisee spiritual paternity but an apostolic paternity. However, if we were to take the prohibition in Mt. 23:9 to the letter, then we would have no right to call a parent father or dad! But, seemingly, the objection admits the natural paternity and denies the spiritual!
The apostles, initial recipients of the prohibition “call no one father on earth” (it is useless to claim that they were not those intended but others), never hesitated to call themselves fathers or to treat the faithful as their own children, without having scruples to say it or write it: in 1P 5:13 St. Peter calls Mark “my son”. St. John reiterates incessantly “my children, my little children” (1 Jn. 2:1; 14 and 18; 3:7 and 18; 4:4. 5:21). St. Paul does the same: he lays claim to his apostolic paternity in contrast to the thousands of instructors or pedagogues that the Corinthians could have had (1 Cor. 4: 14-15). In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy and Titus are addressed as “sons” (1Tm. 1:2 and 18; 2Tm. 1:1; 2:1. Tt. 1:4). In the emotional letter of intercession to Philemon, St. Paul calls the slave Onesimus “my son whom I have begotten in my bonds” (Phm. 1:10).
Needless to say, and better said, that these texts call upon all the “papas” (a word of endearment for “father”), the patriarchs (a word that means “authority of the fatherland or “authority of the father”) and the priests also called “abbot” (from the Aramaic Abba), to cultivate the spiritual paternity that the apostles practiced and laid claim to!
N.B. Ethiopian Christians call the Bishop “Abouna” and the priest “Abba”.
Fr. Peter Madros