From the far hills of Galilee, where Matthew’s gospel describes so much of Jesus’ ministry taking place, we’re brought to Jerusalem where Jesus and his disciples enter a hostile city and are confronted by its leaders, high-ranking priests and temple authorities. In this gospel passage, Jesus advises his disciples how to deal with a world that’s pitted against them.
Though the Pharisees only later gained control in Judaism, the evangelist anticipates the future and sees them as the main adversaries of Jesus and his disciples. They’re religious leaders, but religious people can be as blindly possessive and controlling as anyone else. In religious Jerusalem, Jesus tells his disciples to keep following their Teacher within.
Our western world today, of course, is not dominated by religious authorities, it listens less and less to them. But the powerful still love power; they love honors and privileges and like being seen. We’re told we are free, yet our world shapes us more than we know. Powerful voices constantly vie with voice of the Teacher within.
“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example,” Jesus told his disciples in Jerusalem and tells us today. We can’t ignore this world and its leaders; we have to listen them, but we must listen most of all to our Teacher telling us how to engage our time.
Jesus’ words apply to religious leaders too. We listen to them, but they too are second to the One Teacher. I like the way St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, defined himself as a preacher and spiritual director. He knew his place in people’s lives. God was their teacher, not him, and Paul often makes clear his respect for the Teacher who speaks in a voice that’s not his.
So the saint can write to someone he is directing: “I want to tell you that I’m always ready to be of service to your soul, but I always leave you free to consult and seek advice from someone else, whoever God inspired you to ask.” (Letter 24)
God is our ultimate Teacher. We must seek the One who speaks within.
Fr. Victor Hoagland, CP is the Director of Passionist Press and a member of the Passionist Community in Union City, NJ.