Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent
(Isaiah 1:10.16-20; Matthew 23:1-12)
“Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Dahlberg-Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Acton wasn’t condemning the possession of power since it is necessary to bring about anything that is worthwhile. But he was cautioning his friend that having power entails responsibility because it could as easily be used for evil as for good.
In the gospel Jesus comments on the abuse of power by the scribes and Pharisees. He criticizes their way of exploiting the prestige – a kind of power -- they have for purposes of self-aggrandizement. He then forbids all titles of prestige among his followers.
The question is frequently asked, “If Jesus prohibits the titles of ‘father’ and ‘Master’ and ‘Rabbi,’ then why have at least the first two terms been used in the Church for centuries?” Although an argument may be made in defense of the titles by examining the context of the gospel passage, it seems most honest to say that the Church, the ultimate interpreter of Scripture, determined early on that she would not insist upon a literal following of Jesus’ words here. The case is like the Church’s acceptance of oaths even though Jesus specifically prohibits them (Matthew 5:34-37). The Church believes that the title of “father,” used out of respect for the training, dedication, and experience of priests, is legitimate. However, she also holds priests accountable for living up to the title by judiciously carrying out their responsibilities.