Call no man "father"
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.' As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
Call no man "father"
I love working with young adults. It is an interesting age, when we are learning to be independent, at the same time that we make great mistakes. A few months ago, as people were dropping their children off at college for the first time, I was fascinated by the posts. Parents were sharing text messages from their children who were learning to navigate the world in a much more practical way than they were accustomed. “What’s my shoe size?” “How do you take clothes out of the washing machine?” “Where do I find pasta water in the store?” If you have a High School senior at home, take note and make sure they are prepared for life on their own. Now, we can laugh at the mysteries of moving out, but we all have gone through the experience of recognizing how vulnerable we really are.
I remember receiving a young man who had graduated from college and proceeded to work at the family business. He normally dressed as a professional so I was surprised when he showed up in very casual clothes during the middle of the day. “What’s up?” “I quit my job.” “Where are you eating dinner tonight?” “At my parents’ house.” He had not made the connection that his boss was also his dad. I think it is interesting because we all make the same mistake with God. We get caught up in our little rebellions, only to continue living on this orb that he created and maintains in existence. Whenever we try to declare our independence from God, we end up looking silly.
Bitterness of orphanhood
One of the common themes in the Old Testament is the plight of the orphan. So much of a person’s station in life was determined by the father. So, an orphan was naturally at a tremendous disadvantage. It is something unnatural, and tremendously to lose parents, especially before reaching maturity. The Israelites had a keen grasp of this, as did Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is using “rabbinic hyperbole.” He is saying things in an exaggerated manner to get his point across. To use a name was to point to the essence and nature. In this way, no father on earth can usurp the role that is exclusive to God the Father. My dad liked to repeat a certain dad joke: “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” And yet this paterfamilias attitude was always a joke. A father and mother do not have the final say over the lives of their children.
And yet, we can all imagine what orphanhood would be like, if we are graced enough to not experience it. There are many people who have grown up emotional orphans, even if one or both of their parents were physically present. I see the consequences of this play out in so many ways later on in life when they try to build a successful marriage. Parents, you have a tremendous role in the future happiness of your children.
Goodness of being nestled in God’s hands
How do we overcome our false sense of independence and let go of the bitterness of orphanhood?
In the faith, there are no orphans. We all come from the Father, and Jesus knows that we need to remember that. His prohibition to call others “father” is not a quick phrase to give evangelical apologists fodder to attack Catholics for calling priests “father.”
We call priests “father” as a sign of respect and hopefully it can help us bridge the gap to see God as our father. Unfortunately, the situation Jesus describes in the Gospel does not feel 2,000 years away. We are all too familiar with false teachers and hypocrites. But it would be a mistake to allow the foundation of our faith to crumble because of their bad example.
How will you discover the goodness of your heavenly Father who cares for you always? I suggest that each night, you write down three blessings that you have received from God that day. This way, you foster in yourself a sense of gratitude and at the same time you help your heart recognize the beautiful place you occupy in the Father’s heart. God bless.