August 21, 2021 - Call No Man ‘Father’ - A Reflection on Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.' As for you, 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. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

When I was growing up, I remember that whenever I asked questions about the faith I was told, “Don’t ask questions. Just believe.” For an intelligent boy wanting answers to things he didn’t quite comprehend, that was absurd, and it was one of the reasons that led me to leaving the church because nobody gave me answers, and those who might have them were hostile. But I realized, when I returned to the faith, that the reason people told us not to ask questions is because they didn’t have answers to give.

This is what led to the formation of my ministry sixteen years ago. As I began to get answers to questions I was asking, I decided to share what I was learning with others. Even today, a lot of what I do is catechetical. That includes these reflections. It is most evident in our flagship ministry—the Schools of Discipleship. We teach people to be evangelists, but you can’t become an evangelist unless you live the faith, and you can’t live the faith unless you know it. Many church leaders recognized the need for these Schools, which is why we had nearly 150 schools in fourteen countries around the world. 

In the Schools, students are encouraged to ask questions, and if they were reading today’s passage, one of the questions that surely would have cropped up would have been this one: When Jesus warned against calling men, “Father”, why do we call priests “Father”? It is a valid question, and one that requires an answer. But this is easily answered. In this passage, we find that Jesus is warning against calling men ‘teachers’ or ‘masters” as well, so obviously it isn’t the usage of the word he is warning against.

So, what is he warning against then? It is against calling men ‘teacher’ or ‘master’ or ‘father’ in a way that is proper to God alone, our true and ultimate teacher and master and father. It is as simple as that, but there is further validation in Scripture. In Acts 7:2 we find Stephen, a very anointed man of God who was the first martyr in the church, addressing the Pharisees as “fathers.” “Brothers and FATHERS, listen to me,” he said. He was a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (see Acts 6:5) and the Spirit would not have inspired this if Christ had forbidden a literal use of the term.

Later, Paul wrote, “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your FATHER through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). I have quoted both verses from the NIV to let you there is no bias. So, ask questions and try to find answers. But when you ask questions, ask them with the desire for understanding. Then God will give you the answers you seek. 

So: Ask questions; don’t just believe.