Saint Bonaventure – Readings

Commentary on Ephesians 3:14-19; Psalm 118; Matthew 23:8-12

The Gospel reading is from chapter 23 of Matthew. The whole chapter is a denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. This is not to say that it is a criticism of every scribe and every Pharisee, but rather of a certain arrogant mentality which many of them displayed, especially in their dealings with Jesus. In general, the very laudable aim of a Pharisee was to try and carry out the Law of Moses as perfectly as possible, believing that that was the way to follow God’s will and grow in holiness. However, it could in some cases lead to a certain sense of superiority in looking down on other people who were not leading similar lives.

It should also be said that the Gospel, in speaking of this mentality, was very likely not thinking of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ time, but rather of people in Christian communities who had this mentality. People who put legalism above love and service. We see traces of it in some of the communities to which Paul wrote his letters (not to mention even in our own day).

Just before today’s passage, Jesus has told his disciples to follow the teachings of the Pharisees, but not their behaviour because they do not practise what they preach. They lay heavy burdens on people, but do not carry them themselves. And their main concern is to be seen to be more perfect than everyone else, and to be obsequiously greeted by people and given special privileges of honour and respect.

The followers of Jesus are not to behave like this. They are not to arrogate titles to themselves, insisting they be called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Father’ or ‘Master’, because there is only one Teacher and only one Father and only one Master. Greatness in the Christian community is earned by those who give themselves in loving service to all their brothers and sisters. Jesus himself gave the example:

…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…
(Mark 10:35)

Bonaventure was a person who could have demanded obsequious behaviour. He was a distinguished theologian, the Master-General of his Order and a cardinal-archbishop. Yet we know that when messengers came from the Vatican to tell of his appointment as cardinal-archbishop, he only received them after he had finished what he was doing – washing dishes for the community. His was a life of frugal simplicity and service.

In the First Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians we are reminded of Bonaventure’s mystical and affective approach to understanding his God. Paul’s prayer for the Christians of Ephesus sums up the goal of Bonaventure’s life:

I pray that…Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love…that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

May that prayer be fulfilled in our lives too.

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