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.”
23:2 Moses’ seat: This may be an actual “chair”, like those used in later synagogues, or only a symbol of teaching authority. The Pharisees thus preach the Mosaic Law with authority, but their failure to practice its “weightier matters” (23:23) should not be followed by others.
23:5 their phylacteries: Small leather boxes containing Scripture verses. These are tied to the forearm and forehead while praying (Deut 6:8; 11:18). Making them broad, the Pharisees sought to parade their piety for public recognition. fringes:
23:7 rabbi: A Hebrew word meaning “my great one” and a title for revered Jewish teachers (Jn 1:38).
23:9 call no man your father: Jesus uses hyperbole to post a warning that no one should pridefully desire honorific titles. His words are not meant literally. The NT writers elsewhere use father for natural fathers (Heb 12:7–11) and spiritual fathers in the Church (1 Cor 4:15; Philem 10). ● The spiritual fatherhood of New Covenant priests is an extension of its application to Old Covenant priests (Judg 17:10; 18:19).
Catholics are sometimes criticized for addressing their priests as Father. On the surface the practice does appear to contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matt 23:9. However, there is reason to think that Jesus is stressing the fundamental equality of his disciples, rather than establishing a literal prohibition against the use of religious titles. The earliest Christians did not understand Jesus to forbid such a practice. Both Stephen and Paul address Jewish crowds with the words, “Brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2; 22:1), and the word father appears in other New Testament passages with reference to natural fathers (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21; Heb 12:9) as well as spiritual fathers (1 Cor 4:15; Phil 2:22; Philem 10). Likewise, spiritual leaders in the ascetic movement of the third and fourth centuries were addressed as Father, just as tradition commonly refers to the great teachers of the early centuries as the Church Fathers. The practice of the Catholic Church is consistent with these biblical and historical precedents.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ words contain a salutary warning against a sinful desire or affection for honorific titles. Even the greatest spiritual fathers and teachers among us should never be (or want to be) esteemed in a way that compares to our reverence for the Father in heaven or the world’s true Teacher, the Messiah. Likewise, those of us who are called Father or Teacher (Professor or Doctor) must not love those expressions of honor or let them cause us to forget that our fundamental relationship to other Christians is that of fellow disciple, brother, or sister.
– Edward Sri
May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.