26th August. Wednesday, Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

The gospel is no mere opinion but is God’s own word

You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

Gospel: Matthew 23:27-32

Woe to hypocrites who are not what they seem

Jesus said to his disciples, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.


Works and faith as complementary

The readings offer contrasting but complementary views on human activity. Paul praises daily work while the gospel condemns empty “works”. Paul’s church-work was unpaid, so he needed to support himself by his handiwork as a tentmaker. Clearly he spent most of whatever he earned, and only a little was left over to share with the poor. Yet he knows that his religious message was more than just one man’s opinion, for it is “the word of God at work within you who believe.” God must be “at work” before anyone can believe. Some external means such as Paul’s missionary work can help enable people to recognize God at work in their lives.

People who are willing to be thoroughly human and honest have a better chance of being used by God than others who rather try to seem sacred and different. Conscious sanctity or other-worldliness carries the threat of pride and false superiority, destructive of healthy human relations.


Image and appearance

Image and appearance are important values in our culture at the moment. There is an emphasis on looking well, and people can go to great lengths to cultivate their image. In the gospel, Jesus highlights the importance of inner reality rather than external image. How people are within themselves is what matters. Jesus himself appeared at his most unattractive as he hung dying from the cross. Yet, that was the moment when the love within him was at its most intense. The poor widow who put two copper coins into the Temple treasury looked an insignificant figure contributing a miniscule sum of money. Yet Jesus saw the generous heart that was within, a heart like his own that was prepared to give everything, and, so, he called over his disciples so that they could learn from her. Appearances can be deceptive. In the case of the scribes and Pharisees there was less substance than what met the eye. In the case of the widow and Christ crucified there was more than met the eye. The gospel tells us not to work so much on how we appear to others as on what is within, the quality of love in our heart. We invite the Holy Spirit to come and kindle the fire of God’s love within us.[Martin Hogan]

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