- Faith and Worship
- How Do I...
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: March 3, 2015
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during a Mass for seminarians at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.
Today's Gospel is a passage that enemies of the Church use to discredit Catholicism and confuse simple believers. Jesus says, "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."
Call no one father and yet we call priests "Father". Call no one teacher and yet we call your professors "Teachers". Taken out of context, these titles do seem to contradict what Jesus says in today's Gospel. But put them in their proper context and the problem goes away.
1.) The linguistic context: Every language has peculiarities and Aramaic has an acute shortage of abstract vocabulary, which they remedied through the use of hyperbole, exaggeration — except that when we exaggerate the intent often to deceive, while with hyperbole the intent is to emphasize — even in English.
Taken out of context, these titles do seem to contradict what Jesus says in today's Gospel. But put them in their proper context and the problem goes away.
For instance, if I say "no one likes brussel sprouts" you know not to take me literally. They wouldn't be in the store if absolutely no one ate them. But you know what I mean: "Most people don't like brussel sprouts and neither do I." Well native speakers of Aramaic knew not to take Jesus' hyperbole literally, but rather to pay attention to what he meant, which in today's Gospel is his teaching about true greatness: "The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
2.) Audience context: When Jesus said, "Call no one on earth your father," who did his audience think he was referring to? There were no Catholic priests around yet. The only people his original audience called father were their own natural fathers, their mother's husband. "Call no one on earth your father." All those literalists violate the literal meaning of Jesus' words whenever they call their own dads "father".
Jesus' point is true greatness comes not from occupying an important role in society, but rather from our service of others in the exercise of these roles, and the more selfless the service, the greater we become ... and that's no hyperbole!