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Following God

Well, you could take it all literally. You would not, for example, be able to introduce someone to your father, saying 'This is my father' because it is written, 'Call no one on earth your father.' You would even have to stop calling him Dad - because that is simply a time-honoured affectionate way of saying 'Father'. In the same way, teachers would not be able to put down 'teacher' on any application form that asked their occupation, for it is written, 'you must not allow yourselves to be called teachers'. Nor could you even call anyone Mister, Monsieur in French or Senor in Spanish - for these are just ways of saying Master, and we have just heard, 'you have only one Master'.

If you interpret the bible literally, then that is the literal meaning of the gospel that we have just heard. And I have to say, that if you take it that way, then you are trivializing it and avoiding its challenge. What Jesus is saying is that words have meanings - and if we use words, then we must be prepared to live what we say.

For example: We call God our Father. Jesus reminds us of this in the gospel today. Very well then, that means that we belong to the family of God. Everyone who calls God Father, even beyond the Christian Church itself, would have to live up to this. We would have to show the unity of a family. We would have to live by the mutual love and support of a family. If we share God as Father, then there can be no slandering or vicious talk behind people's back. There would have to be respect for the child in the womb and for those with learning difficulties, for they, as we, would have God as Father. There would even be political and economic consequences: if we call God our Father, then we would have to share our resources with others who call God Father. Families, after all, share the good things of life. So Jesus is reminding us here that if we use this word Father to apply to God then we must be prepared to live its meaning.

What about 'You have only one Teacher, the Christ'? If we call Christ our teacher, it means that we are prepared to learn. That we learn from his words and from his example. Each of us has to have a sense of discipleship, of learning from Christ by following him. I once met a new Catholic who told me that he was very much still a learner Catholic, one with his L plates on. I said that all of us are. All of us should be open to learning something new about life from being followers of Christ. If we call him teacher, then we must be prepared to be disciples.

Jesus also tells us: 'you have only one Master, and you are all brothers' - and, we would add today, sisters. Again, what would it mean if we really lived these words? It would mean that there was no time for snobbery in the Church, no desire to play up to the rich and powerful. Pay no heed to outward appearances: but treat everyone with respect, for we are all sons and daughters of God.

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