Call No Man Your Father

Call no man on earth your father, for you have but one Father in heaven. Matthew 23:9

I think if I had called my father ‘Kirk,’ instead of ‘dad,’ that would have bummed him out. And I don’t think us bum-rushing our earthly fathers is exactly what the Lord Jesus had in mind when He said this. Nor do I think that He intended just to wag His finger at Catholics who address priests as ‘Father.’

dad3My dad believed in God, and Christ, and the Church. So he would never have hesitated to acknowledge that, before God–before the heavenly Father–we were brothers.

When my brother and I were still kids, dad got to make the fatherly decisions. And he was not above corporal punishment, if and when we neglected to co-operate–which, in all honesty, was very infrequently. My mom wasn’t above corporal punishment, either. But, like I said, we were co-operative sons.

All that said, my dad knew perfectly well that we all had a horizon much higher than himself. He considered himself a child, also, when he turned the eyes of his soul to God.

So the irony is: Calling our priests ‘Father’ actually helps us to fulfill what the Lord Jesus said. Because calling the man who leads the church family ‘Father’ lifts our eyes to the higher horizon.

tabernacleYes, we owe our earthly fathers respect and obedience. We owe all earthly authority the co-operation to which it is entitled.

But if we want to get to the bottom of the question, Where do I come from? To whom do I owe my deepest loyalty? We can’t stop at ‘mom and dad,’ or ‘Virginia,’ or ‘America.’ We can’t stop anywhere on this earth.

We have to lift the eyes of our soul up to answer the question. We exist because of the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our first, fundamental, and absolute allegiance is to God our Father.

The priest is a father because he baptizes us and makes us children of God; he feeds us with the Body of Christ; he teaches and makes rules for the church family, according to the teachings and rules in the Word of God.

‘Mark’ is my name. But if you called me ‘Hey, Mark,’ as if my duty were to chitchat and play with you like just another semi-skilled basketball player–I think that would be a big bummer for everybody. Every family needs a father.

By the same token, though: in the Church, even the Fathers are children. At the holy altar, we stand together before our heavenly Father. He guides us, and feeds us, and loves us. And, together, we try to please Him and love Him back.


Prophets’ Memorials

In the last of His imprecations of the Pharisees, the Lord condemns them for building memorials of the ancient prophets.

‘See how learned and pious we are! We frequent these memorials of the divine men of old! They were totally holy, and so are we! Since we have these stone memorials, we can show everyone that we have more religion than the common people.’

Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley
Tomb of Zechariah, son of Jehoida, in the Kidron Valley
Christ insists that the monuments stand as empty shells. They had been built on earth to honor martyrs who never basked in any earthly glory. The prophets never reveled in their holiness by frequenting little monuments. The prophets languished in cisterns, or faced exile, or death–solely because they preferred the truth to currying favor with the rich and powerful.

I think we can say that the Lord’s point is:

The only real ‘memorial’ to the holy prophets is a conscience as pure and upright as theirs, a heart as honest as theirs, a religion as humble and obedient as theirs.

The ancestors killed the prophets; they did not honor them. The prophets spoke uncomfortable things, which made the rapacious hearts of the half-pagan kings violently angry. Better to snuff out the voice that accuses my unclean conscience. Because I have grown too attached to selfishness to admit the truth and change my life.

In the subsequent passage of the gospel, Jesus weeps for hard-hearted Jerusalem. ‘I would have gathered you to Myself, like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. But you prefer your petty egotism.’

Christ cursed hypocrisy and shallowness with even more pitiless rancor than the ancient prophets did. But the Lord wept with a gentle and aching heart for the love that could have been, the love that He would have shared with His people, if only they had been willing to let go of their grasping self-righteousness.

Humble honesty about myself will cost me my ego. But, in its place, I will be able to find the joy of communion with God. To defend my delusions of superiority, I would have to kill the prophet, and make up for it by putting a pretty sculpture over his grave. Better just to listen to him, and humble myself before God.

“Call no man on earth your father.”

1. When it really counted, USA hockey lost to Canada.

2. The Hoyas are on a late-season slide, and Austin Freeman is sick as a dog.

3. Very strange things are going to start happening at D.C. Superior Court tomorrow.

4. It is still nowhere near 70 degrees…

March has arrived like an ill-tempered goat.

This situation calls for an exegetical discourse! In honor of the Year of the Priest!

“Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)

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