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Fathers' Day or Father's Day?

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Matthew 23.9

The context of this startling command of Jesus is an encounter with a hostile crowd, no doubt infiltrated by those who were looking for a way of silencing Jesus. In defiance, Jesus begins by affirming the status of officials who trace their authority from Moses adding that, while they should respect their teaching, they should not follow their example because these officials fail to practice what they preach. So Jesus' injunction against calling another human being "father" and his instruction to reserve that term for God amounts to the culmination of his argument that the only reliable source of authority and example is Our Heavenly Father.

This day we designate Fathers' Day is so-called as a marketing gimmick to persuade us all to fork out for cards and presents to give to our earthly fathers. No harm in that, one might think, while conceding that the very idea comes tinged with poignancy, for those who have lost their dads or for those who have not enjoyed a happy experience on account of absence or abuse. Those of us who can appreciate our fathers - dead or alive - are indeed blessed. And if we ourselves are fathers, we can take inspiration from them.

But we should all bear in mind the trajectory of such inspiration, if we are to come away with a healthy and fair understanding of God as our Heavenly Father, particularly in light of the Church's practice of saying the Lord's Prayer together ("Our Father, which art in heaven..."). God's fatherhood is not a magnification of our own experience of fatherhood - that could be disastrous in the case of a negative experience! Rather it is God's supreme example of fatherliness which should inform human efforts to "father" accordingly and in the power of the Spirit.



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