Hierarchy AND Equality
Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, to which the priests and those in charge of religious activities belonged. Nor was Jesus part of any religious party or association – he was not a Pharisee nor a Sadducee. He was on the side of the common man and He saw how the leaders of God’s people acted.
However even from the perspective of seeing how poor the leaders were (not practicing what they preached and not being merciful) our Lord does not suggest doing away with them. Our Lord wants leaders who are not so much concerned about what they look like nor what others think about them, but men of integrity and who are humble. No religious leader should stand in the way of a person and their God. Jesus makes this point by saying “Call no one Rabbi”, “Call no one Father” and “Call no one Teacher”. Jesus is not banning the normal use of these words, because the words would then just drop from usage and lose their meaning. Jesus is making His point through hyperbole and it is not to be taken literally.*
We are being reminded today of the profound equality of all children of God. No member of the Church should think themselves better than others. No one should be seeking titles and honours. We all share an equal dignity given us by God through our creation, and new creation in Christ by baptism. However our Lord does not suggest bringing down the hierarchy! The Church has a hierarchy but no member of the hierarchy should consider themselves better than anyone else. Each member of the Church is called to grow in holiness and draw closer to God, and each of us must strive to do that through the grace given us through the Holy Spirit – this is true of priests, bishops and popes, as well as the Religious and the Laity. We are all in the same boat struggling against sin and seeking grace to grow in Christ and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Yes we should honour those that sit in the seat of the Apostles because through them we honour the Apostolic and therefore Christ, but the man who sits in the seat is not better than anyone else. We are all where we are through the grace of God alone.
Each member of the Church has their vocation and their work to be doing. We must all pay one another the respect due to our dignity in Christ, and we all must pray for one another that we will resist temptation and grow in the life of grace.
* “father” is used in the New Testament referring to human fathers (Heb 12:7-11) and spiritual fathers (1 Cor 4:15 ; Philem 10), and this emphasises Jesus was not intending His words be taken literally.