“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 whosoever they tell you, but do not follow their example…For they preach but to not practice. They tie heavy burdens hard to carry…They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels…they love places of honor at banquets…’”
Today, the Lord is admonishing the religious! The Lord did not speak harshly to sinners (with the exception of the Canaanite woman). He spoke lovingly, mercifully and honestly to them. But with the religious, that’s a different story. He was stern with them. He set very high expectations for them. He told the crowd to “do and observe all things whosoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” Yes, they are the legitimate authority. They have the right to determine what should and should not be done. They receive that authority from the Father.
Christ does not take away the authority of the scribes or the Pharisees. He does not lead the Jewish people away from them. But he makes a point that drives a wedge – “they preach but do not practice.”
I can honestly say that being a priest can be very comfortable. You can pretty much set your own schedule after you’ve done your daily Mass, made your hospital visits and heard your weekly confessions. After that, you’re pretty much free. You can decide how busy you wish to be. You can decide how many hours a week you will be available for appointments. You can pray as often as you would like, or not at all. The same is true for anyone. You can put in as much as you like in your work, with your spouse and with your children. You can come home from work and sit on a couch and watch TV all night long or you can play with the children, put them to bed and read them a story.
It is striking how throughout our lives we are not so much known for our name but rather for our titles. Our children spend their entire life calling us mom and dad. Our wife calls us honey or our husband calls us sweetie. I believe for this reason the Lord makes it clear for us to be careful of what people call you; otherwise, you may be causing a scandal. “Do not be called ‘Rabbi’, call no one on earth your ‘father’…Do not be called ‘Master.’” All fathers (physical fathers and spiritual fathers) take their name from God The Father. We men must take this title seriously. There is no greater honor for a father (and The Father) to hear his son (His Son) say, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you."
When the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey retired in 2002, he paid his respects to Pope John Paul II, who, by that time, was very frail. When a reporter asked the Archbishop what he planned on doing next, he remarked that he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren, work in his garden, and travel around the world. The reporter then asked the Holy Father if he would ever consider retiring. The Holy Father responded by pointing to a crucifix in front of him. I will never forget what he said. He said, “Christ did not come down from the Cross when the Pharisees mockingly asked him to. If the Lord did not do so, then how could I? I will serve the Lord till the very end!”
Even with all his human limitations and weaknesses, John Paul II was one, among many popes, we could truly call, Holy Father, for he was found by God to be worthy of succeeding St. Peter, and ultimately sit next to Jesus Christ.
Taking your seat should not be confused with sitting on your seat!