Calling anyone “Father”


Tuesday, March 14, 2017
2nd Week of Lent
First Reading:
Is 1:10, 16-20
Gospel Reading:
Mt 23:1-12

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses. So you shall do and observe all they say, but do not do as they do, for they do not do what they say. They tie up heavy burdens and load them on the shoulders of the people, but they do not even raise a finger to move them. They do everything in order to be seen by people; so they wear very wide bands of the Law around their foreheads, and robes with large tassels. They enjoy the first place at feasts and reserved seats in the synagogues, and being greeted in the marketplace and being called ‘Master’ by the people.”But you, do not let yourselves be called Master because you have only one Master, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Neither should you call anyone on earth Father, because you have only one Father, he who is in heaven. Nor should you be called leader, because Christ is the only leader for you. Let the greatest among you be the servant of all. For whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be made great.”

(Daily Gospel in the Assimilated Life Experience)

According to the plain meaning rule applied in Philippine civil law a statute is to be read word for word and is to be interpreted according to the ordinary meaning of the language, unless a statute explicitly defines some of its terms otherwise, or unless the result would be cruel or absurd. Applied analogically to the gospel reading of today, the prohibition to call anyone on earth “Father” cannot be given literal interpretation, for that would result to the cruel and absurd situation of barring even children from calling their male parent “Father” and its equivalent terms.

Literal interpretation is not always favorable to the gospels especially when it leads to ridiculous conclusions. How do we construe, for example, the passage mandating the cutting off of one’s arm should it lead a person to sin? Surely nobody would want to take this literally, not even the Fundamentalists.

The prohibition to call anyone on earth “Father” should also be given contextual interpretation to avoid absurdity. The prohibition was issued as Jesus was condemning the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This was the context when he began enumerating the possible breeding grounds of greed for power. Those prohibitions, including the prohibition to call anyone “Father”, are not stand-alone verses. They are instructional materials meant to support Jesus’ main point of condemning hypocrisy. – (Atty.) Rev. Fr. Dan Domingo P. delos Angeles, Jr., D.M.

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