The writings of Matthew and Luke display different models of community. Matthew’s model has a bias against titles and structures of authority. Like many newly founded religious movements, Matthew’s was small and egalitarian, trusting personal charisma and fraternity over power and hierarchy. A similar community appears in the Epistle of James, which is also thought to come from a Jewish-Christian milieu. The community Luke describes, by contrast, was a complex and vast enterprise. It had regular internal communication and structures for making decisions. This coordination allowed early Christians to proclaim the Gospel over a great area in a comparatively short time. Both models of church exist among Christians today. Although many churches resemble Luke’s community more than Matthew’s, all Christians need to learn to relate to authority according to Jesus’ commands in today’s Gospel.
‘Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.’ (Mt 23:9)
What tokens of honor or status draw your attention? How can you resist them?
Do you have a tendency to put religious leaders “on a pedestal”?
How do you keep your attention focused on God?
Organized religion exists to offer God adoration and service. Religious leaders, both official and unofficial, should be the foremost examples of such devotion. But God is difficult to perceive, and people can get confused and instead start worshiping the religion rather than the one it serves. Likewise, leaders can use the structures of a religion to serve themselves, twisting the teachings of the faith to attain wealth, power or sex.
Jesus warns against this twofold temptation. He rebukes leaders who draw attention away from God. In his own day, the scribes and Pharisees did so with ostentatious religious garb and tokens of social status. Likewise, he warns his own disciples against playing along. His stark commands not to call anyone on earth “rabbi” (meaning “my great one”) or “father” or “master,” would have complicated the relationship between his disciples and the leaders of their own Jewish faith. Matthew, writing at a time when this relationship had completely ruptured, understood the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching. The first disciples, however, came from a tightly knit hierarchical culture and probably found this teaching bewildering.
Matthew teaches us today about Jesus’ own life of faith. The Father was the only rabbi Jesus needed. Jesus trusted the Father’s Spirit to interpret the Scriptures and to guide him in their application. The Spirit led Jesus to those places he was needed most, and in the compassion he felt for the people he served, he was pouring out his Father’s love.
Just so today, God is the primary teacher and guide of every Christian. Jesus established a community, and individual Christians live out their search for God within a vast and complex church. One fundamental task of this community is to reveal Christ; equally important is its duty to support all who struggle to follow his teachings. Christians can find all sorts of ways to distract themselves with the trappings of religion. In the end, though, only those who understand true humility can walk with Christ each day into the presence of the Father.