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Monday – Twenty-first week – OT1
Readings: I Thes 1:1-5, 8b-10; Mt 23:13-22
1/ First Reading: RSV 1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; 5 for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
2/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. 14 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, `If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; 22 and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
I. THEME: One faith, two ways of life
Seeing Gandhi in person, the Christian missionary E. Stanley Jones asked him: “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower”? M. Gandhi’s reply was clear: “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Today readings give us two examples about two kinds of life of those who have faith in God. In the first reading, St. Paul praised the Thessalonian faithful because not only they believed in Christ but also sincerely lived their life so that their good works weren’t only known in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia, but also extended to the regions which St. Paul preached. The opposite thing happened in the Gospel, Jesus tired of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the scribes because they find all possible ways to defend their hypocrisy and not to do God’s teaching.
1/ Reading I: The sincere way of the Thessalonian faithful
1.1/ Paul testified the sincere life of the Thessalonians’ faithful: It might be that in all communities established by Paul, there is no community which had a virtuous life as the Thessalonian community. In the introduction of the Letter, Paul only mentioned their virtuous life in general as follows, “We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These are three important theological virtues. The Thessalonians’ faith was not only expressed in words but also in deeds. Their charity was expressed by carried each other’s burden. Their hope was showed by patiently endured while they are waiting for Christ’s second glorious coming.
Preaching and living the Gospel’s requirements aren’t only pure words, but also related to the three important things which are:
(1) Power (dunamis): This Greek noun reserves only for God. His power is expressed in preaching, believing and living what the Gospel requires.
(2) The Holy Spirit: In order for people to believe in God, the Holy Spirit must act in both the preachers and the listeners.
(3) The full conviction (plerophoría polle): St. Paul might imply the absolute faith of the believers in what the Gospel contains, such as: Christ, his teaching, the forgiveness, the resurrection, etc. This noun is used many times in the New Testament (Cf. Col 2:2; Heb 6:11; 10:22, Rom 15:29).
1.2/ Good name goes far: Faith is the conviction of the soul which no one can see; but the expression of faith is the outside act which everyone can see. The reason why St. Paul knew the Thessalonians’ faith was because of the praises from those he had contacts with, as he said, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake; for not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
2/ Gospel: The hypocritical way of life of the Pharisees and the scribes
Hypocrite (hupokrites) in Greek means “the one who answers.” According to Hellenistic tradition, this word has a special relation to those who answer the conversations in theatrical plays, the actors or the actresses. They must play their roles according to what a play described, no matter what their mood are; for examples, they must cry while they are happy or they must laugh while they are sad. In a word, a hypocrite doesn’t live according to himself. A Vietnamese adage describes this kind of people as follows: “Outside, full of laugh; inside, full of dangerous ways to kill.” An English equivalence is, “A honey tongue, a heart of gall.”
2.1/ The danger of a hypocrite way: Facing trials and sufferings, the hypocrites refuse to endure sufferings by finding all kinds of reason to protect their timid actions. One way is to hide their selfishness by good acts from outside. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees as follows: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”
They locked the door to heaven by their hyporitical way of life. How can they enter the kingdom of heaven by tediously keeping the unnecessary laws while neglecting many important laws related to justice, mercy and fidelity? If people also imitate them to do as such, they can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus also condemned them about not to be good examples for the converts: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.” Instead of setting as good examples, they set many bad examples and taught the converts to follow their hypocrisy. Those who have just entered the Church used to be more eager than those who have been in the Church many years. If they aren’t taught to do good, they shall be eager to do bad as they saw in their leaders.
2.2/ Their false interpretation of the law: Scribes and Pharisees were lawmakers and very knowledgeable of the law. So, they know how to interprete the law according to their intention; they can make right to be wrong and the reverse by adding or substracting words in the law or by finding a loophole in it. One example which Jesus pointed out in this passage is their interpretation of the law. The law teaches that when one pointed to the temple and swore, he must keep his oath at all cost; but scribes and Pharisees found a way to invalidate that oath by reasoning around. They said, “If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.”
Jesus pointed out the falsity of their argument: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”
And Jesus concluded: “One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– The same faith could lead to the two ways of life which completely oppose each other: one is based on true faith and love, the other on the hypocritical and outside acts.
– People might be deceived by the hypocritical act, but God is never deceived because He fathoms all things in a person’s mind.
– We must live a sincere life before God and human beings.