A Tumultuous Tuesday in Jerusalem – Saturday, 20th week in ordinary time – Mt 23:1-12

A Tumultuous Tuesday in Jerusalem – Saturday, 20th week in ordinary time – Mt 23:1-12

Please find the Gospel reading in the podcast above

Please find the reflection in the podcast above

 This was certainly a tumultuous Tuesday in Holy week. Chapter 23 is the hinge to the sixth and final discourse found in the Gospel of Matthew also known as  the Eschatological discourse( pertaining to the end time), found in chapters 24-26. But for now we are in this ‘hinge chapter’; the setting is temple of Jerusalem and the audience are the crowds and His disciples. 

The Gospel of Matthew now presents a sustained condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, not for what they teach but for how they conduct themselves.  The first part of the condemnation spanning twelve verses is a condemnation of a duplicitous leadership which lacks humility and craves for titular recognition.

A quick glance through chapter 23 will certainly make you think that Jesus had some serious anger issues with the Pharisees and scribes. It is only when we read the text in its context that we understand the mind of Matthew in presenting this chapter as a collection of the teachings of Jesus against the Pharisees.

Jesus did’nt come to destroy the law or the prophets He came to fulfil it, but even more than that He came to liberate the people from the tyrannical interpretations of the law that the Pharisee had imposed on them. Matthew, writing to a predominantly Jewish congregation does not principally intend to defame the Pharisees, although it may seem like it. When Pharisaic teaching took root, it wanted to unite the people and bring them back into the fold; unfortunately while their intention was the best their execution and imposition of it was the worst.

By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were more about position and pronouncements and it is these that Jesus condemns. In His opening words, Jesus acknowledges their right to teach but with no obligation   on the part of the Jews to imitate their behaviour. The teaching was true, for it came from God; their actions were fake for it pandered to men.

While unnecessarily burdening the people with ‘religious interpretation ‘of the law, the Pharisees also appropriated for themselves titles of honour. It is these titles of honour by which they wished to be greeted; at banquets, synagogues and market places

There are some, who on selective reading of the Bible disturb Catholic congregations by misquoting this passage of scripture. It would be foolish if we went to school and did not address the one who teaches us as anything but a teacher. The critique of the titles appropriated by the Pharisees was an issue that largely affected the community of Matthew. To take these out of context would misrepresent the mind of the divine evangelist.

It is only in AD 60-80 that the title, Rabbis (my great one) came into use as a technical term for an authorized Jewish teacher or sage.  The rejection of this title was more a feud of the Matthean community with those Jewish leaders who bore it. This spat over the use of titles was a direct fall out of the excommunication of the Jewish Christians by the Jewish authorities from  the synagogues.

In was much later, between 80-120 AD, that Saul ben Batnith, a Jewish sage took on, for the first time, the title of father or Abba. Despite this Matthean prohibition in response to a particular spat of that time, this title crept back into Christianity through the monastic movement where it first served as a term for ‘spiritual director’.

The title of teacher belongs solely to Christ, in the sense that all Christians have only one teacher and are lifelong disciples of Him alone. While other teachers do play a transitory role, the teacher par excellence is Christ alone.

Fr Warner D’Souza

With many, many references from the JBC

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