26 August
Mt 23:1-12

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

An anonymous 5th-century Christian writer had this to say: “Mistaken lay people are easier to set straight; but clerics, if they are evil, are almost impossible to set straight.”  That sounds like the voice of experience.  He was referring in the first place to the Pharisees, but by extension to all clerics of all time.  “The chair does not make the priest,” he continued, “but the priest, the chair.  The place does not sanctify the man, but the man, the place.  Not every priest is holy, but all the holy are priests.” 

Origen (185 - 254) leaves us in no doubt about who is meant.  The delight in receiving honours and sitting in front and being greeted respectfully: “We must admit that this kind of delight is found not only among the scribes and Pharisees but also in the Church of Christ, and not only at dinner, while taking places at the table, but also the front seats in church…. ‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled….’  I wish everyone might hear this, and most of all deacons, priests and bishops.”  Then he quotes in full the passage (Phil 2:6-9) about Christ’s self-emptying.  “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”

Chrysostom (344/354 – 407) adds his voice: “Christ continually reminded the disciples of this virtue [humility], both when he brought a child into the midst and now [in this passage]. Even when he was preaching on the mount, beginning the Beatitudes, this is where he began.  And in this passage he plucks up pride by the roots, saying, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”



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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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