Is Jesus a Hypocrite?
“And call no man on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”
In her recent book entitled, Hope Will Find You, Rabbi Naomi Levy writes about the preaching course she took in rabbinical school. It was taught by an elderly rabbi, wise and learned, who became a beloved friend and mentor to the young rabbinical student.
At their last meeting before her graduation, Naomi asked: “Rabbi, what words of wisdom do you have for me as I become a rabbi?”
The eminent rabbi sat in silence for a few moments. And then he spoke these words:
“Never … wear .. brown.”
That was it. That’s all Naomi got. Never wear brown? Was he kidding?
But as her life as a rabbi and spouse and parent unfolded, Naomi came to understand exactly what the rabbi meant. Naomi writes:
“[My teacher, in his opinion] complained that brown was a wishy-washy color – a drab color. I think he was telling me. ‘If you’re going to be a rabbi, be a bold rabbi, be a brave rabbi. Open people’s eyes, challenge their minds, wake up their souls, and comfort their broken hearts.’”
Throughout the 23rd chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus severely criticizes the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees and demonstrates the sorrow and compassion He feels towards the ordinary mass of the people, who have been “ill-used, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” His address may be divided into three parts: in the first, which we heard today, (vv. 1-12) Jesus identifies their principal vices and corrupt practices; in the second part (vv. 13-36) he confronts them and speaks his famous “woes“, which in effect are the reverse of the beatitudes he preached in chapter 5: no one can enter the Kingdom of heaven — no one can escape condemnation to the flames — unless he changes his attitude and behavior; and in the third part (vv. 37-39) he weeps over Jerusalem, so grieved is He by the evils by which the hypocrisy, the misinterpretation of the God’s Law, the blind pride and hardheartedness of the scribes and Pharisees, which have misled the chosen people.
Moses passed on to the people the Law received from God. The scribes, who for the most part sided with the Pharisees, had the function of educating the people in the Law of Moses; that is why they were said to “sit on Moses’ seat.” Our Lord recognized that the scribes and Pharisees did have a certain authority to teach the Law.
However, Jesus comes to teach the Truth; in fact, He is the Truth! As a teacher, therefore, He is absolutely unique and unparalleled. The whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: His silences, His miracles, His gestures, His prayer, His love for people, His special affection for the little and the poor, His acceptance of the total sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of the world, and His resurrection, are the actualization of His word and the fulfillment of revelation.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus, who is Truth is certainly no hypocrite! Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus cannot tell us not to do something that He Himself would do or say (and visa-versa). He cannot deceive, nor be deceived! He does not contradict Himself when He speaks. Jesus gave His Word orally to His apostles, who in turn gave some of it to us in Sacred Scripture through the Catholic Church. Only the Catholic Church has the legitimate authority to interpret Sacred Scripture through the successors of the apostles – the pope and bishops in union with him. When I begin to prepare a homily, my starting point is always the Church’s interpretation of the Scripture passage that I’m preaching on.
Of course, many individual people interpret scripture on their own personal authority, which itself is a contradiction to scripture itself, as St. Peter warned in the third chapter of his second epistle about those who interpret scripture on their own authority; St. Peter writes in verses 16 and 17 “In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability.”
One such common misinterpretation of scripture is the phrase, “call no man on earth your father …”
The key word “your” is in most Bible versions including the King James version. The use of this word “your” signifies, in today’s gospel passage that only the creator, as Father of the spirit — that which lasts for all eternity — is the true “Father.” All other references to “father” refer to human beings who in one way or another serve as physical fathers. Our souls are of God the Father. Our material bodies (that which is mortal) have a human father. The argument that “dad” or “pa” or “pop” or “papa” bears a different significance than the word “father” is to be considered as being narrow minded and hypocritical. If someone believes that if anyone calls another human being “father” with the intention that the term “father” in scripture means the Creator, and believes that this is not okay because it goes against the literal interpretation contained in Scripture, then many messages of Jesus are rendered useless because they contradict each other.
It should be noted that there are 1,511 references to father or fathers in the King James version of Sacred Scripture. Most of these do not refer to God the Father. There is no admonition by Jesus or anyone else that these usages are wrong. When Jesus used the reference “your father” it would have had little meaning if the basic concept of father was not clearly understood. For instance, Jesus says;
in Matthew 15:4, For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die’ Here, Jesus is referring to an earthly father and not His heavenly Father!
in Mark 10:8, He says, Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Here again, Jesus is referring to an earthly father and not His heavenly Father!
in Luke 15:27 – the parable of the prodigal son, He says, The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ Once again, Jesus is referring to an earthly father and not His heavenly Father!
in John 8:56, He says, Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. Therefore, in all four Gospels, Jesus Himself is referring directly to earthly fathers.
Additionally, the Blessed Virgin Mary said in Luke 2:48, When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And there are many other passages where Our Lord and other Old Testament and New Testament writers use the term “your father,” in its correct usage.
The question you may ask, isn’t this a contradiction when Jesus says, “call no man on earth your father …”? First, Jesus is certainly no hypocrite! Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus cannot tell us not to do something that He Himself would do or say (and visa-versa). And secondly, the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers confronted this problem of apparent literal contradiction. That’s why the Church in its legitimate interpretation of scripture does not always interpret scripture literally. Because, if you interpret scripture literally in all cases, then scripture will contradict itself in well over 100 different instances, including the first two chapters of the first book of the bible – Genesis. These two creation accounts actually contradict each other, if you interpret them literally. The Church legitimately and correctly interprets sacred scripture figuratively when its necessary, simply because there are only two authors of Scripture, the human author, which reveals the literal meaning, and the divine author, which reveals the theological meaning.
As a matter of common sense, if you interpret this scripture passage from St. Mark literally, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,” then us Christians might wind up being a bunch of partially blind amputees.
Therefore, the use of the word “father,” in regards to priests (or male parents), only means that a priest acts as a spiritual guide under the authority of God the Father. No one in their right mind thinks that each priest (or male parent) is God the Father or that any human being is their creator. Jesus made this statement to help us focus on our true origins and upon that which has lasting value. This type of message is called a metaphor. It’s figurative language is used as a method of teaching and not meant to be taken literally. It is a way of getting across a message. In other words, the word “father” as it is used in today’s gospel passage, means, don’t call any human being God or refer to any human being as divine; because there is only one God in heaven, who is divine and eternal!
But since I would not want anyone to act contrary to their moral conscience and possibly introduce confusion into their belief system, like Rabbi Naomi Levy in my opening story, may I be so bold and so brave and so challenging to suggest to you, that if you insist on clinging to bad interpretations of scripture, then you can always call us Reverend!
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us!
31st Sunday In Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Sunday, November 5th, 2017
Matthew 23: 1-12