A disciple is not above his master

Anthony Zimmerman
For Catholicmind
September 27, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household. "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops (Matt 24:27).

The words of Jesus that "a disciples is not above his teacher" must have been a great comfort to the disciples, a sign to them that if they are persecuted, the fault is not theirs provided they proclaim the Gospel faithfully. The disciples form one family, one message, with Christ. The focus of opposition is not the messenger but the message. The lies told against Christ that attribute His message is the devil will be directed against the disciples as well. They should not lose heart nor be silenced by insults and persecution, because Christ's protection accompanies them, and because God is in charge of the world. Nothing will happen to them that God does not know and witness. Note that He does not promise to spare them from persecution, but He does promise to be with them through it all, to keep them company.

Unlike secret societies such as the Masons of our time, or plotters such as the Zealots of Christ's time, the Gospel message has no secrets whatsoever that outsiders may not know. Whatever Jesus tells the disciples, whether in broad daylight with thousands listening, or whether to the band of twelve when alone, all is for public notice. All of what Christ teaches and does is part of the Gospel. They should proclaim it even from the flat roofs of the houses, an ideal platform for such preaching in Palestine of that time. Incidentally, some of the cathedrals of Europe, such as St. Stephan's in Vienna, have a pulpit on the tower which great preachers have used to good advantage in the days when streets were not as noisy as they are today.

The words that the disciple is not above his teacher are also an admonition that the disciple must teach what Christ teaches, not a new message of private composition. The ones sent are messengers, are ambassadors, not composers of a message of their own which differs from the original. How blessed and wonderful it was when the twelve did exactly that during the lifetime of Christ in Israel. To make sure that the message would remain true to Him, Christ gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom, and gave to him also the mandate to confirm the brethren. Christ knew of course, that false teachers and false prophets will come - Gnostics, Arians, Manicheans, Palagians, Muslims, Protestants - and therefore He wisely entrusted to one Vicar the safeguarding of the message. Isaiah warned us about false teachers:

Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord,
Who carry out plans that are not mine.
Who weave webs that are not inspired by me,
Adding sin to sin (Isaiah 30:1).

How then did He enjoin them to pronounce peace on entering into each house? What is this peace? It was announced by the Angels when Jesus was born, saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." It is the Messianic peace, the peace of those who enter Christ's kingdom and become His disciples. But it is no a peace that whitewashes falsehoods and sin. As Chrysostom says "

Because this more than anything is peace, when the diseased is cut off, when the mutinous is removed. For thus it is possible for Heaven to be united to earth. Since the physician too in this way preserves the rest of the body, when he amputates the incurable part; and the general, when he has brought to a separation them that were agreed in mischief.... For concord is not in every case a good thing, since even robbers agree together (Sermon on Matthew's Gospel, 33, Logos Research Systems CD, Early Church Fathers).

Although the preaching of the apostles was a peace that did not agree with the status quo of Palestine at the time of Christ, subsequent ages would prove the superiority of the new message of the kingdom. Though persecuted here, and driven out there, yet wait long enough, observed Chrysostom, and all will recognize them as saviors:

For why do ye grieve? At their calling you sorcerers and deceivers? But wait a little, and all men will address you as saviors, and benefactors of the world. Yea, for time discovers all things that are concealed, it will both refute their false accusation, and make manifest your virtue. For when the event shows you saviors, and benefactors, and examples of all virtue, men will not give heed to their words, but to the real state of the case; and they will appear false accusers, and liars, and slanderers, but ye brighter than the sun, length of time revealing and proclaiming you, and uttering a voice clearer than a trumpet, and making all men witnesses of your virtue. Let not therefore what is now said humble you, but let the hope of the good things to come raise you up. For it cannot be, that what relates to you should be hid (Sermon 33).

"What you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops"

Jesus gave the example of teaching even things hard to believe, even matters that required faith, appearing to be against common sense. In view of Christ's mandate, shall the bishops and priests today teach the entire message of the Church, or shall they rather spare the people from hearing what is very difficult to believe and follow? When the Vicar of Christ proclaimed in 1968, in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, that abortion, sterilization and contraception are mortally wrong, many bishops and pastors chose to be silent about this. Was it right then, and is it right today?

Jesus was not silent about hard sayings, for example, about faith in the Holy Eucharist. He proclaimed that "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:54). Many followers turned away. Jesus did not apologize, did not explain, but turned to the apostles and asked:

Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:67-69).

In 1968, when Pope Paul VI promulgated in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, all the bishops of the world, and all priests, should have done as Peter did, not as the unbelievers did who said, "This is a hard saying." Yes, it is a hard saying, and like the saying of Christ about the Holy Eucharist, accepting it requires an act of faith that does not come from our reason and human powers alone. We need help from God to accept it. As Christ said: "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).

The hard teaching was not accepted by all in 1968, but the US Conference of Bishops has indicated that they will soon issue a document supporting the subject. We live at an important turning point in history this very year, I believe. With that document, the bishops will bring to families that "peace" with God, which Christ told the apostles to bring to receptive households when they preach the Gospel in towns and villages. Jesus will rejoice again, when He hears our response: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." That is the proper response to the Church's teaching which condemns all forms of contraception and contraceptive sterilization; that includes, of course, condoms, pills, injections, and surgery designed to prevent conception. I finish my weekly message with this and with a prayer that the coming document of the American bishops will receive a response by American people that is pleasing to Christ. But if you wish to read on, here are documents of recent popes that carry the tradition of the Church into our day.

Pope Pius XI

On December 30, 1930, obviously in response to the Anglican Lambeth Conference that had, a few months previously, broken Christian ranks and accepted contraception. The Pope wrote:

"Every attempt on the part of the married couple during the conjugal act or during the development of its natural consequences, to deprive it of its inherent power and to hinder the procreation of a new life is immoral. No 'indication' or need can change an action that is intrinsically immoral into an action that is moral and lawful...

Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, [cf. Anglicans, Lambeth Conference, 14 August 1930] the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of grave sin" (Pius XI, Casti Connubii No. 56, 31 December 1930).

Pope Pius XII:

"Contraception is Always Evil."

"This prescription (of Casti Connubii) holds good today just as much as it did yesterday. It will hold tomorrow and always, for it is not a mere precept of human right but the expression of a natural and Divine law" (Address to Midwives, No. 24, 29 October 1951).

Pope John XXIII

"Everyone is Bound to These Laws."

"Because the life of man is passed on to other men deliberately and knowingly, it therefore follows that this should be done in accord with the most sacred, permanent, inviolable prescriptions of God. Everyone without exception is bound to recognize and observe these laws. Wherefore, in this matter, no one is permitted to use methods and procedures which may indeed be permissible to check the life of plants and animals" (Mater et Magistra No. 193, 15 May 1961).

Pope Paul VI

"Rejects All Contraception."

"Similarly there must be a rejection of all acts that attempt to impede procreation, both those chosen as a means to an end and those chosen as ends. This includes acts that precede intercourse, acts that accompany intercourse, and acts that are directed to the natural consequences of intercourse" (Humanae Vitae No. 14).

Pope John Paul I

"Teach the Full Teaching of the Church."

"Our special support goes to those who help couples preparing for Christian marriage by offering them the full teaching of the Church and by encouraging them in the highest ideals of the Christian family" ("The Christian Family," Address, 21 September 1978).

Pope John Paul II

"Contraception is Always Gravely Illicit."

"Thus, in continuity with the living tradition of the ecclesiastical community throughout history, the recent Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of my predecessor Paul VI, expressed above all in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, have handed on to our times a truly prophetic proclamation, which reaffirms and reproposes with clarity the Church's teaching and norm, always old yet always new, regarding marriage and regarding the transmission of life. For this reason the Synod Fathers made the following declaration at their last assembly: "This Sacred Synod, gathered together with the Successor of Peter in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et Spes 50) and afterwards in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, particularly that love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life" (Humanae Vitae No. 11; cf. 9,12) (Familiaris Consortio No. 29, Feast of Christ the King 1981).

"When, therefore, through contraception, married couples remove from the exercise of their conjugal sexuality its potential procreative capacity, they claim a power which belongs solely to God: the power to decide in a final analysis the coming into existence of a human person. They assume the qualification not of being cooperators in God's creative power, but the ultimate depositories of the source of human life. In this perspective, contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God" (Address to Priests, 17 September 1983).

"As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae teaches: "every marital act must be open to the transmission of life" (n. 11). For this reason contraception and sterilization for contraceptive purposes are always gravely illicit" (Address to audience of a million faithful, Caracas, Venezuela, 27 January 1985).

"A grave responsibility derives from this: those who place themselves in open conflict with the law of God, authentically taught by the Church, guide spouses along a false path. The Church's teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matter open to free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral conscience of spouses into error" (Address to Natural Family Planning Conference, 5 June 1987).

"By describing the contraceptive act as intrinsically illicit, Paul VI meant to teach that the moral norm is such that it does not admit exceptions. No personal or social circumstances could ever, can now, or will ever, render such an act lawful in itself. The existence of particular norms regarding man's way of acting in the world, which are endowed with a binding force that excludes always and in whatever situation the possibility of exceptions, is a constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church's Magisterium, which cannot be called into question by the Catholic theologian" (Address to 400 Theologians, 12 November 1988).