You have but one Father in heaven and one master, the Christ (Gospel Acclamation)
When I was a minor seminarian (the stage of training that covered our high school education and first two years of college in a residential environment) – we were required to spend our afternoons and evenings in “study hall” in silence, preparing for the next day’s classes. (As a result I received good grades in this phase of my training because I HAD to study! If I had been on my own in a loose set up at home, I would have fallen so far behind that – well, one semester prior to my entering the seminary (while I was in first year high school, after three semesters) I received the Distinguished Flying Cross in Latin – i.e. a D an F and a C!
But getting back to my minor seminary days, there came a time, when I became an upper classman, that I was assigned to monitor the study hall – sit up front at a high desk and make sure that people were studying, that no passing of notes or monkey business was going on. I was, therefore, no longer among the peons but placed in charge! What a change in my personality! As soon as I saw or thought I saw any of the underclassmen giggling or whispering from desk to desk – in other words, challenging my “authority” (in other words trying to “make a fool of me”), I shouted out like some top sergeant – frightened even myself – in order to enforce order, to get people back to their books.
I didn’t like what I did; it seemed to have to do mainly with my ego – I wasn’t getting the respect I should get as study hall monitor and I soon abdicated the role – again probably to conceal my vulnerable ego under a low profile. Rising to a position of authority, therefore, has its risks; it can detach one from a sense of solidarity with others with whom you were so recently rubbing shoulders. Today’s readings – if read closely – deal with the importance of our not forgetting our sense of solidarity, of our sibling relationship – even when it is necessary for someone of us to be “in charge”.
The theme of this Sunday is stated in “Have we not all one father? Has not the one God created us?” and “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven,” which Gospel statement is repeated as our Alleluia refrain, if you listen closely. In other words, it is imperative that both those in charge of the community (at all levels down even to study hall monitor) not let the distance of their status elbow out the fact that we are all brothers and sisters of God’s family and should treat each other not as inferiors but as kin, even as peers, personally, as members of a family of faith that’s buffeted enough from the world at large not to need aggravations from within.
That’s a hard thing to maintain, a family tone to our interactions. The scribes and Pharisees whose authority still intimidated many a Jewish Christian in the days of Matthew seemed to have forgotten that sense of family; tended to embarrass God by their “shouting for order in the study hall” (which so often begets a shouting match among their subordinates) - instead of all members of the family valuing, loving one other as siblings under God.
To which the prophet Malachi pleads, “Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers” or of our one Father – whose presence is made sacramentally manifest at the head of our one table - in the Christ of the Eucharist?