27 August. Monday of Week Twenty One

2 Thess 1:1ff. Where faith and love increase in the midst of difficulties, the name of Jesus Christ is glorified.

Matt 23:13ff. Jesus condemns the blind guides for their legalistic distinctions that destroy the purpose of the law.

Genuineness versus Hypocrisy

The Thessalonians live and act in a way that “proves” their faith; the blind guides in the gospel undermine faith by their legalistic hairsplitting. Compared to the Scribes and Pharisees, the Thessalonian Christians had only elementary training in their religion. The fact that they could so misunderstand Paul’s words about the second coming of Jesus shows that they were still novices in the faith. (This emerges again in next week’s readings. And the church in Thessalonica had other issues too, according to Acts 17:1-15.)

While the Scribes and Pharisees quote Scripture much more precisely and were more successful in gaining converts than were the Thessalonians, nonetheless the latter were proving their faith more effectively. No one proves faith by logic alone, convincing the mind or even by miracles seen by the eye. Even the Egyptian magicians could match Moses’ actions, and the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose. Faith is proved by intuitions prompted by the Spirit and by the presence of love. Its language of conviction is spoken through love and fidelity. “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another” (John 13:35). Intuitions of the spirit are communicated through the vibrations of sincerity, honesty, humility and other fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

In this spirit Paul had come to Thessalonica, preaching the gospel “not merely in words” but out of complete conviction. In the same spirit the church he founded there lived their faith so vibrantly that reports of it spread to other places too. They confidently awaited from heaven the Son whom God raised from the dead, “Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Faith was much more than dry dogma, more than a recital of past events, for it looked to the future in hope of the messianic kingdom. This expectation should not make us dreamers, overlooking the here-and-now needs of our neighbour. Rather, it prompts us to “labour in love.” Today’s epistle joins the two ideas clearly: as faith grows so mutual love increases, and results in a spirit of “constancy.”

The gospel refers to the faith as practiced by the Scribes and Pharisees. When Jesus says that their actions are “few,” he means actions worthy of imitation. He goes on with the sharp comment that their works were performed to be seen. Their purpose was to enhance their reputation; converts were trophies to be displayed. By using a refined legalism they justified doing what the law prohibits. Here, Jesus’ words are so severe that we almost wonder where was the charity which ought to direct all words and actions? Today’s liturgy does not include other lines which help to put the entire speech within a perspective of love and compassion, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, murderer of prophets and stoner of those who were sent to you. How I have yearned to gather your children, as a mother bird gathers her young under her wings, but you refused me.”

First Reading: 2Th1:1-5, 11-12

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

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