Sunday Homily, 5th November - Fr Paul Rowse, OP
Many times during his public ministry, the Lord was asked about his father, but not by the disciples. When the disciples turned their minds to the question about who the Lord’s father is, we know they were thinking about St Joseph or God the Father himself. It was not always so with the Pharisees.
When the Pharisees ask about Jesus’ father, they’re also interested in his interpretation of the Law – precisely because of what they themselves were called. We know that the disciples of the Pharisees called them by the three titles which are mentioned in our Gospel reading: Rabbi (which means “great one”), Avi (which means “my father”), and Moreh (which means “teacher”).
So, what we’ve just heard in our Gospel reading is not about what we call our dads, priests, and school teachers. It’s about evading the common opinion that Christians are adherents of just another Jewish sect. The Lord’s leading disciples are not allowed to assume the titles and receive the honours of our Jewish forebears because of what we’re becoming in Christ. We are the New Israel, formed as such by the New Moses, who in himself unites all humanity in the new covenant to keep the new law of love.
The Lord’s proscription of these three Jewish titles (Great one, My father, and Teacher) is to ensure we’re not mistaken for aberrant Jews. We don’t follow Christ because we think his interpretation of the Mosaic Law is the right one among others; we follow him because he has given us the new law which precedes all others and therefore is the foundation for a new humanity. We’re often judged on externals: our leaders are not to look or sound like just another rabbi – our “great ones” are in fact those who serve like Christ.
Although this Gospel isn’t about what we call our dads, priests, and school teachers, this can be a useful opportunity to say too what the priesthood is about.
There are great priests I know who are interested in all the gear and others none of the gear; some of the worst priests I know either hate or love being called “Father.” The key to an authentic ministry is, in fact, the intention to serve. Every priest has to ask himself whether he has become a faithful steward yet. So much is entrusted to us; even the best of us have yet to be proven worthy of it.
There are quite a few times, in the confessional and elsewhere, when someone says it’s been years and decades since they were last in church, because a priest said or did something which was quite off. If that was me, or any other priest, I am so sorry; I’ll do better.
My constant aim is to preach, minister, and worship in such a way that I disappear and you meet Christ. Sometimes I get that right; often I do not. But disappear I must, so that Christ alone may be seen: he is the greatest among us, the Son of the Father of all, and the teacher of all humanity. To imitate him, I’m happy to help with your burdens, happy not to attract notice to myself unnecessarily, to eschew public honours, and make all I do about Christ.
Please pray for me that I may yet be a faithful steward for your sake.
Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest