To start with, there is a reason I chose to not write about this last Sunday.
Years ago, Emma and I would attend Catholic Mass together on Sundays. She, along with a large segment of the population, was born and raised Catholic, and had since fallen away from the church. Like many others, she insisted that she was Catholic, yet she followed very few of the church’s teachings. Another “Half-Cath” I had dated once said about converting to another religion “You can’t just pick and choose what you want to believe”. It was okay to choose what you considered to be a sin, but not okay to go to a church where everyone felt the same way. .
I enjoyed Mass. Emma tried a Baptist service with me once and just couldn’t take it. People wanted to talk to you and were friendly, the service ran far too long. She said “I want my religion once a week in a thirty minute dose”. So we would walk over to Saint Nicholas (yes, that was really the name) and do the Catholic dance, and on the way home I would explain what the snippets of scripture actually meant in context.
On father’s day one year I opened the missive to see which scriptures they’d be discussing, and there was Matthew, 23:9. “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven“. A small smile crossed my face. “I wonder what Father John will have to say about this?” I thought. Father John was a charming guy, I genuinely liked him. He had a powerful presence, and a strong voice. If you watched The Sopranos, he was very reminiscent of Uncle Junior. He read the scripture, and then went into an incredibly unrelated sermon. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would approach the discussion on the way home.
Emma helped. Even she had noticed the lack of connection. So I began with “you have to figure that you’re not getting the entire meaning when the scripture begins with the word “and”, don’t you think?”. When we got home, we went over the entire chapter. I’ve reprinted the most relevant part here, but the entire chapter is not very long.
23 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
How amazing is that? It’s all about hypocrisy, and focusing on the hypocrisy within churches. Depending on your beliefs, these are the words of Christ, spoken years before the creation of the Catholic Church, or it is a fiction, created by the Catholic Church. Either way, the Church was aware of these words, and decided to create a hierarchy separating the faithful from God, and to call their teachers “Father”. Perhaps it is this scripture alone that is responsible for the Church keeping the Mass in Latin for so long, and frowning upon individual Bible study. Perhaps. I have another theory that I may or may not discuss on a later date.
I’m sure I’ve said it before and will most certainly say it again in the future. If you can handle a novel you can read the New Testament. At 138,020 words, It is longer than “A tale of Two Cities” and shorter than “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. It is very close to exactly the average word count of the Great Novels, which is 136,604 words. You don’t need someone else to tell you what it says, read it yourself. Church is like Cliff Notes.
Read the book. That was the writer’s intention.