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Matthew 23:9

A Xt3 Member asked at 10:44pm on November 25th 2018
Dear Fr,

Greetings from Pakistan!

I am a born catholic, I am in search of this question, "why do we call a priest, "Father"? when Jesus tautgh us in Matthew 23:9 that we should not call anyone our father on the earth.

thanks and regards

Ajmal Hadayat


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Hi Ajmal, like everything in the Gospels, the context is important. That chapter 23 opens by criticizing the Pharisees for using words without deeds, preaching without living up to what they're asking others to do (2-4) . Then Jesus goes on to call out the Pharisees' vanity and self-importance: 'they do all their deeds to be seen by men' (5-7).

He then (8-12) contrasts their efforts at showing themselves better than everyone else with what his followers are to do, in five statements about our equality before God.

1) They shouldn't claim to be Rabbis, teachers, since there's only one Teacher, and they're all brothers. It surely didn't mean that no one should ever be called a teacher. But since we're all brothers, a Christian teacher should always be humble before their pupils, however young, since they're all brothers of Jesus, Jesus is in each of them, however young.

2) The one you mention: 'call no man your father on earth, for you have only one Father, who is in heaven' surely doesn't mean to undermine the role of human fathers - that would be to go against the Fourth Commandment, 'honour your father and your mother.' In Aramaic and Hebrew, the word for father is 'ab' (or its 'pet' form, 'abba,' Dad or Daddy) doesn't only refer to our biological father but is also an honorary title given to a teacher, elder, or patron.

3) Is a kind of repeat of 1), where the word means the same, instructor or master, since 'you have only one teacher/master, the Christ.' 4) Explains the underlying answer to the pride of the Pharisees mentioned in the first two criticisms, 'the greatest among you shall be your servant.' And 5) underlines the complete revolution of the Gospels: 'whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'

So I'd suggest that Jesus didn't mean that we should never call anyone other than his Father or himself, teacher or father - what he wanted to do was contrast the Pharisees' desire to lord it over people with the Christian's opposite behaviour of humbling him- or herself. The title that the Pope uses, 'servant of the servants of God' captures that meaning, and of course if we priests ever do what the Pharisees did, and instead of humbly serving our people try to act as their rulers or bosses, we're going against everything Jesus asked of his followers. Very best, Fr Brendan
Xt3's Ask a Priest answered at 3:41pm on February 12th 2019 reply

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