Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees

Gospel Reading: Mt 23:1-12

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 lift 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 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 Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. 12Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

REFLECTION The exercise of power
In the normal course of human interaction, a person in authority cannot but be a step higher than those under him or her. By definition, a power relationship is “asymmetrical”: the master is above the slave, the jail warden above the detainee, the prison official above the convict, the parent above the child, the teacher above the student, the priest or pastor above the flock. It is the nature of power to create, preserve, or reinforce a hierarchy. There is nothing wrong with this. This is simply the way power operates.

This remains true even when those in power appear to downplay or reject the very power they possess. Power remains dangerously real even when – especially when – it pretends to be absent. It is therefore an illusion to root out power from human life. The issue is not its existence, but rather its exercise.

The scriptural readings today present instructive examples on possible ways of deploying power. In the First Reading, the Lord criticizes the Old Testament priests for using their power to perpetuate a culture of laxity in their priestly duties of offering temple sacrifices and giving good spiritual guidance (“you have made void the covenant of Levi”). God also condemns misuse of power in marital relationships to legitimize a culture of divorce (“Why then do we break faith with each other…?”). In an altogether different setting, Jesus denounces the Pharisees for using their power to promote a culture of self-entitlement and spiritual elitism without a sense of healthy self-criticism. By contrast, Paul encourages a nascent Christian community to remain faithful to the word of God by gently reminding them how he exercised power not harshly but “as a nursing mother cares for her children.”

If power in whatever form is an irremovable element in human relationships, and if the temptation to its abuse is always there, what can serve as a guarantee for its proper exercise?

An answer can be found in Augustine of Hippo who is reputed to have told the people of God: “To you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian.” The saint admitted to the fact that God had called him to be in ministerial power, but at the same time affirmed that he was a companion and friend with all the baptized. It was this sense of “being-with” others that guided Augustine in the exercise of his episcopal powers. The ultimate meaning of power is therefore its possessor’s ability to actualize his personal “one-ness” with the people over whom he exercises such power. The one in power is called to be one with the people.

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SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website:

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