Matthew 23: 1-12
1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples 2 to say to them, "The scholars of the Bible and the Pharisees occupy the pulpit of Moses. 3 So put into practice and observe everything they can say to you, on the other hand ignore their actions, because these actions differ from what they say. 4 In addition, they overload others with serious [demanding] and binding obligations, while they do not even want to lift them from their finger. 5 All their actions they do to be seen by others, and this is how they magnify their badges of piety and lengthen the religious tassels at the bottom of their clothing. 6 They like the first couch at banquets and places of honor at the synagogue, 7 just like receiving bows in the public square and being called by others: master. 8 But you do not call yourself a master, for you have only one master, and you are brothers to one another. 9 And do not call yourself a "father" on this earth, for you have only one father in the world of God. 10 Do not call yourself "leaders" because you have only one leader, Christ. 11 Let the most important among you become your servant, 12 for the one who seeks to be important will be ignored, the one who is ignored will become important.
The law as a control tool, or life path
Gospel commentary - Homily
The event made the headlines in the United States: a member of Congress, representative of Pennsylvania, one of the loudest supporters of the Pro-Life movement against abortion, was caught sending a text to his mistress who had declared herself pregnant, asking her to terminate her pregnancy, in an extramarital affair. And the event is not unique. Four years earlier, a member of Congress from Tennessee, who boasted of being 100% Pro-Life, would have asked both his wife and his mistress to terminate their pregnancy, we learned through divorce proceedings. What does that mean?
My interest is not the issue of abortion per se, but what explains that we fight for a law, but that this law is no longer valid when we are confronted with the events of our own life? The explanation goes deeper than the mere mention of human weakness. When you advocate for a law, isn't there an easy way to seek power and exercise control over others? And when suddenly this law no longer applies to yourself, is it not the sign that we have oversimplified things and that we have forgotten the complexity of life, and that the rigidity of a law is ill-suited to the multiple nuances of personal stories? This setting, in my opinion, can serve as a gateway to understanding the gospel of today.
It is an extract from the Gospel according to Matthew. We are in a very Jewish universe. Biblical scholars believe that this gospel was born in the Judeo-Christian community of Antioch (Antakya), in present-day Turkey, around 80 or 85. It is a very important community when Matthew writes his gospel. This community earlier sent Paul on a mission to western Turkey and to Greece. At the same time, very conservative currents controled it, and they considered that Paul was wrong to promote freedom with respect to Jewish traditions and Mosaic laws. Does Matthew himself not put these words in the mouth of Jesus: "Whoever violates one of these least precepts, and teaches others to do the same, will be held for the least in the Kingdom of Heaven" (5, 19), and "I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to bring it to its fullness" (5, 17)? Let's take a close look at what he writes today.
When Jesus speaks to address all people and his disciples, he has just noticed the failure of the dialogue with all the exerts of the law, scribes and Pharisees. What did not work? Yet they are the official spokespersons for the laws and traditions going back to Moses and which everyone respects. The problem is not there. The problem is their behavior. "They overload others," says Jesus of Matthew, "with serious demanding and binding obligations, while they do not even want to lift them with their finger". What does it mean? This is because the laws they ask people to follow are only for the exercise of power, the control of others. That's why it doesn't apply to themselves. By doing so, these lawyers have the impression of being important, of making history. It is so true that Jesus adds: "All their actions are done to be seen by others, and this is how they magnify their religious signs"; everything is in the appearance and the exterior, while the interior is empty.
So what is the purpose of the law? Serving people, reflecting the common good and living well together? Absolutely not. It is a springboard for these jurists to look like great men: "They like first place at banquets, continues Jesus of Matthew, and places of honor at the synagogue, just like receiving bows on the public square and to be called by others: master."
Here, one could say: all right, these jurists are pretentious and arrogant people, but that does not detract from the value of the laws. This is precisely the problem. Why did Jesus say later: do not call yourself "master", do not call yourself "father", do not call yourself "leader", because you are all brothers, and only God is Father and only the Christ is your leader? A law reflects the quality of our being and the quality of a society. It is not for nothing that the Jesus of Matthew concludes: "Let the most important among you become your servant". For Matthew, what it means to be a servant is clear: caring for others, i.e. caring for the hungry, the thirsty, strangers or naked or sick or prisoners, as he recounts in the parable on the Last Judgment. A lawyer who takes care of others, what law will he enact? Does he crush people with obligations?
The Judeo-Christian community of Matthew was very well structured, and there were "masters", "fathers" and "leaders". The bishop of the time, Ignatius of Antioch, was a very strong figure. Nevertheless, Matthew serves as a warning, because all of these structures and laws are not independent of the human heart. This is why his Jesus said earlier: "Come to me, all you who labor and bend under the burden of the law, and I will relieve you ... for I am gentle and humble in heart" (11, 28-29 ). When a law reflects the quality of the human heart and the quality of a society, there is less risk of discrepancy between the law promulgated and what we do; it is no longer the exercise of the power and control of others; on the contrary, it is the expression of our search for life. Which of our laws respond to this vision of Jesus understood by Matthew?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, October 2017