Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

(Isaiah 1:10.16-20; Matthew 23:1-12)

In his short story “Counterparts” author James Joyce shows how authoritarianism is passed on from one person to another and from one generation to the next. The story begins with a worker being berated by his boss for not having finished his work. The worker then insults his boss and must either seek his forgiveness or lose his job. When he goes home that evening the worker takes out his troubles on his son. The child has let the fire extinguish on which he was to cook his father’s supper go out. The man begins to beat him while the boy pleads for mercy.

In the gospel today we find Jesus putting an end to authoritarianism among his followers. They are to treat one another as equals without any class distinctions. There are to be no “fathers” and “mothers,” or “masters” and “mistresses” among them. His intention is not very different from that of the founders of the United States who put aside all titles of royalty. Everyone was to be just “Mister” or “Mistress” (Mrs.). Evidently, strict egalitarianism -- authoritarianism’s complete opposite -- has proven impossible to maintain. In both church and state we find honorary distinctions among people although in America it cannot be said that they proliferate.

Still we must not dismiss what Jesus proposes for his church. If we call priests, “father,” and religious women, “sister,” we should not see these distinctions as means of privilege but as reminders of service. As a father, the priest should cheerfully give his time and energy to the spiritual growth of the church. Sisters also must provide wisdom, example, and encouragement in support of the people of God.