Father Cantalamessa on Christ as Teacher

A Commentary by Pontifical Household Preacher

ROME, OCT. 28, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s liturgical readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, highlights the role of Christ as a teacher of absolute truths.

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Matthew 23:1-12

You have one teacher

In the Gospel, Christ’s titles are like the faces of a prism, each one of which reflects a particular “color,” namely, an aspect of his profound reality. This Sunday we come across the important title of teacher: “You have one master, the Christ.”

Among artists and certain categories of professionals the name master, in whose school one has been trained, is one of the things of which one is most proud and it is put at the top of one’s references. But the master-disciple relationship was even more important in Jesus’ times, when there were no books, and all wisdom was transmitted orally.

On one point, however, Jesus distanced himself from what was happening in his time between the master and the disciples. The latter paid for their studies, so to speak, by serving the master, doing small jobs for him and giving him the services that a youth can do for an elderly person, such as washing his feet.

The opposite happens with Jesus: It is he who serves the disciples and washes their feet. Jesus is not truly of the category of masters who “preach, but do not practice.” He did not say to his disciples to do anything that he would not have done himself. It is the opposite of the masters reproved in the passage of the Gospel of the day, who “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” He is not one of those road signs that indicate the direction in which to go, without moving a centimeter. That is why Jesus can say in all truth: “Learn from me.”

But, what does it mean that Jesus is the only master? It does not mean that this title cannot be used henceforth by anyone else, that no one has the right to have himself called master. It means that no one has the right to have himself called master with a capital letter, as if he were the ultimate owner of truth and taught, in his own name, the truth about God. Jesus is the supreme and definitive revelation of God to men, who contains in himself all the partial revelations that have existed before and after him.

He did not limit himself to reveal to us who God is, he has also told us what God wants, what his will is for us. The man of today must be reminded of this, tempted by ethical relativism. Pope John Paul II did so in the encyclical “The Splendor of Truth,” and his successor Benedict XVI does not cease to insist on it. It is not about excluding a healthy pluralism of perspectives on questions that are still open or new problems that humanity faces, but of combating that form of absolute relativism that denies the possibility of sure and definitive truths.

Against this relativism the magisterium of the Church affirms that there is an absolute truth because God exists who is the gauge of truth. This essential truth, to be identified certainly with ever greater care, is imprinted on the conscience. But given that the conscience is blurred by sin, by harmful customs and examples, behold the role of Christ, who came to reveal this truth of God in a clear way; behold the role of the Church and of her magisterium, which explains this truth of Christ and applies it to the changing situations of life.

A personal result of today’s reflection on the Gospel would be to rediscover what an honor, unheard of privilege, and “title of recommendation” it is, before God, to be disciples of Jesus of Nazareth; for us to put that also on the top of our “references.” That any one who sees or hears us can say of us what the woman said to Peter in the Sanhedrin’s courtyard: “You are also one of his disciples. Your conduct betrays you” (Matthew 26:73).

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana. Translation by ZENIT]

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