daily biblical sermons

The greatest among you is he who serves the rest and works harder for the Lord than anyone else
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the 31st Sunday of the Year, November 05, 2023
Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10, Psalm 130 (131), 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13, Matthew 23:1-12


Biblical citations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the places of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the marketplaces, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:1-12).



Today Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees, “for they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:3). They preach and teach, and usually quite accurately and well. They carry out their mission of teaching the word of God to the common people, and they do so in a good way, and so the people should pay attention to them and learn from what they teach, for as Pharisees they sit on Moses’ seat, that is, they speak with the authority of Moses and interpret Moses’ writings.



The problem is that the Pharisees’ actions do not put into practice their good teaching. So the people are not to follow their actions, but rather be edified by listening to and learning from their teaching. As long as they are teaching what Moses taught and properly explaining it, they should follow it. But if they begin to teach the fantasies of their own mind, that’s another matter – the people are not to follow that.



Jesus says, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). These heavy burdens are their own inventions. These are the additions that they make to the law of Moses, which is the law of God. And they insist on the importance of following their added teachings even more than they insist on following Moses’ teachings.



This same error can be seen today as well. We Christian preachers are not to preach our own ideas that contradict Scripture. If we do, we are as bad as the Pharisees.



Today we see many scandalous examples of this. There is a synod going on in Rome in which certain members of the synod are trying to convince other members that certain basic Church teachings, based on the Scriptures, should be changed in order to bring the Church up-to-date with modern ideas and practice.



 For example, there is a strong movement to normalize homosexuality, that is, to accept it as something normal and good. This means that we are to accept same-sex unions and even give them a Church blessing. But this is a great error. Those who are promoting this error are doing so by trying to present it as a tolerant democratic movement. They say that we should allow people to vote on approving the homosexual lifestyle. If the majority agree that it is good, then the Church should accept it.



This kind of democratic thinking is alien to the Catholic Church, because our moral teaching is based on divine revelation in the Scriptures, which we are not allowed to contradict in order to bring our lifestyle and morality into closer union with modern ways of thinking and living. Rather we emphasize the importance of God’s revelation in moral issues and follow it in opposition to the modern world and its ways of thinking and living. In this way we give witness to the modern world that it is in error and we show them the correct way according to God’s law.



Jesus also criticizes the Pharisees for trying to seem great in external ways by wearing exaggerated clothing, making their phylacteries broad and their fringes long (Matthew 23:5). They also seek the places of honor at feasts and in the synagogues and salutations of honor in the marketplace. It seems that their idea of being great is exalting themselves before the people, receiving honor from them, and being seen by them.



The way a Christian should be great is just the opposite – it is by humbling ourselves and working harder than anyone else in the service of the Church, trying to preach the gospel and prepare and give good sermons more than anyone else. By doing this we become great in the eyes of God, not by wearing exaggerated clothing and seeking all the best seats.    



The rabbis often put more emphasis on the teachings of the rabbis, which are additions to God’s word, than they put on God’s word itself. This is something that Jesus does not want us to follow.



So Jesus says, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). This is a reaction to the Pharisees putting more emphasis on the oral traditions of the fathers than they do on the written word of Scripture itself. We shouldn’t be called “fathers” in the sense that the rabbis use this title for the authors of the nonwritten oral traditions that have been passed down within the Jewish community.



We should, therefore, avoid the title of father in order to avoid putting too much emphasis on the oral tradition of the so-called “Fathers.” This, of course, does not mean that a person cannot call his own father “father” or cannot call the doctor who treats him “doctor,” or the professor who teaches him “professor.” These are normal greetings of respect. We must respect people for what they do for us and for what they teach.



We are to respect our parents for having given us existence and for raising and teaching us many things, and so we should call them “father” and “mother.” But what we should avoid is the emphasis that the rabbis put on the oral teaching of the fathers, which exceeded the emphasis that they gave to the Scriptures themselves. We should not do that. We should not be that kind of father. So this is what Jesus means when he says, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).


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