Matthew 23:1-12
Give God the Praise
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat

Reprinted with permission of The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

The 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 life 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 Messiah.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings.  You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

In the first half of this week’s Gospel, Our Lord criticizes the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.  He says that they preach but do not practice.  Our Lord also takes issue with the fact that the scribes and Pharisees perform all of their works in order to be seen.  Their intention is to win the praise of men – not to give glory to God.  Jesus speaks of what we call “purity of intention.”  When we perform good works, we must ask if we do so with the proper intention.  It is not enough to do good works – we must do them with pure hearts that truly love God and are motivated by the desire to give Him glory.  Justice demands that we give God the praise first, before we take any credit for having cooperated with the grace that He provided in the first place.  Keep in mind that being seen doing good works is not problematic per se.  After all, Jesus also says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)  In other words, the motivation or intention behind letting our good works be seen is part of what gives them their virtuous quality.

The second half of the Gospel presents us with an effective hyperbole to further underscore the idea that God the Father is the true source of all truth, fatherhood and authority.  In order to make this point, Jesus uses a hyperbole to call no man “Rabbi or Teacher” or “Father” or “Master.”  An erroneous and overly simplistic reading of this passage would compel us to change the title of a “teacher” to “facilitator” or ”instructor.”  Moreover, we would no longer celebrate Father’s Day each June and priests would be addressed by their first names.  By the same logic, anyone with a master’s degree would denounce their achievement and remove from their office wall any certificate indicating that milestone.  Obviously, this is not the point of Our Lord’s discourse.  What He is indicating here is that God the Father is the source and end of all teaching, fatherhood and dominion in the world.  Thus, all authentic teaching, fatherhood and authority that we exercise is a participation in the wisdom, fatherhood and dominion of the Father.

In sum, the Gospel passage invites us to reorient our hearts and minds to acknowledge the immense love and power of the Father.  All goodness, all fatherhood, all wisdom, all authority and all love come from Him.  He is the one who created each of us out of love and who sent His only Son in order to redeem us.  May their Holy Spirit dwell in our hearts so that we may acknowledge this fact interiorly and perform good works with a pure intention in order to give God praise.

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