Monday, August 23, 2010

Proclaim God's Marvelous Deeds To All The Nations.

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 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 ought to thank God always for you,
brothers and sisters, as is fitting,
because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you
for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you
in the churches of God
regarding your endurance and faith
in all your persecutions
and the afflictions you endure.

This is evidence of the just judgment of God,
so that you may be considered
worthy of the Kingdom of God
for which you are suffering.

We always pray for you,
that our God may make you
worthy of his calling
and powerfully bring to fulfillment
every good purpose and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified
in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace
of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
After eight weeks reading from the Old Testament prophets, we return today to the New Testament. For the next three days we will be reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Christians at Thessalonika in northern Greece.

Today we begin the first of three readings from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians.

Although this letter is usually ascribed to Paul, there are serious doubts about him being its real author or that it was actually directed to the Christians of Thessalonika, a city in Macedonia, north of Greece. Nevertheless, it has always been a part of the recognised canon and we can read it with confidence as speaking God’s word to us.

The letter opens traditionally with the names of its claimed authors: Paul, with two of his helpers, Silvanus and Timothy, and its adressee, the Christian community, the church, in Thessalonika.

There follows a Christian prayer of grace, peace and thanksgiving to God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

The writers are full of gratitude to God because of the marvellous growth of faith and mutual love among the Thessalonian Christians, even though they are aware of some shortcomings also.

The Thessalonians are congratulated for standing out among the churches for their perseverance in spite of the persecutions and troubles they have had to face. This was a source of special pride for Paul and the other founders of this church and they were not ashamed to boast of it. Paul seems to imply that it was somewhat unusual for the founders of a church to boast about this, though others might do so. However, the Thessalonians were so outstanding in this regard that Paul departed from his normal practice.

It shows that God, in allowing them to go through these trials, was right. He gave them the resources they needed and they rose to the occasion and proved themselves “worthy of the kingdom of God”. He provided strength to endure and this in turn produced spiritual and moral character. Their sufferings are precisely for the promotion of the Kingdom as they give faithful witness to Jesus and the Gospel.

The passage ends with a lovely prayer that God will fulfil the Thessalonians’ “desires for goodness” and bring to completion all that they have been doing through faith in Christ. God initiates every good purpose and every act prompted by faith; Paul prays accordingly that he will bring these to fulfilment.

"We pray…that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” In ancient times one’s name was often more than a personal label; it summed up what a person was. Paul is praying that the name, that is, the person of the Lord Jesus will be given glory in them and they in him through the love of God and the Lord Jesus poured into their hearts.

As we read this passage we may reflect on a number of things:

a. Can it be said that our faith and mutual love, individually and collectively, are constantly growing?

b. How do we behave and respond when our Christian faith is challenged, attacked or rubbished? Do we stand up or do we go into hiding? Do we hit back or pray for those who attack us?

c. Can we see that the trials and setbacks of life are ways by which God is challenging the depth of our faith and calling for a deeper response of love and service?*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 96
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
For great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
awesome is he, beyond all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are things of nought,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 23:13-22
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“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.

“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?
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.”
We continue with the attack of Jesus on the mentality of the Scribes and Pharisees, keeping in mind as we mentioned last Saturday that, first, we are dealing more with a state of mind than a blanket condemnation of a whole group of people, and, secondly, that the words are mainly to be heard as providing reflection for our own Christian communities and the way we behave.

Today and for the following two days we read of the seven ‘Woes’ that Jesus hurls against corrupt religious leaders. We have seen already how the number seven is a favourite of Matthew.

The Seven Woes are:
1. You shut up the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces… (v.13)
[You devour the property of widows... (a verse not included in some texts). (v.14)]
2. You travel over land and sea to make a single convert… (v.15)
3. You say, if a man swears by the Temple it has no force… (vv.16-22)
4. You pay your tithe of mint and dill… (vv.23-24)
5. You clean the outside of cup and dish… (vv.25-26)
6. You are like whitewashed tombs… (vv.27-28)
7. You build the sepulchres of the prophets… (vv.29-32)

Today we read the first three Woes.
1, You shut up the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces…v.13
[You devour the property of widows... (not included in some texts). (v.14)]

Jesus accuses the leaders of closing the entrance to the Kingdom, preventing others from going in and not going in themselves either. On the one hand, this can be a reference to their rejection of Jesus who was himself the embodiment of the Kingdom, was preaching the Kingdom and who, by his presence, had made the Kingdom accessible to all who came to him. On the other, it can also mean that they made the observance of the Law impossibly difficult by their complex interpretations of what was and was not allowed.

Whether we are parents, or teachers, or priests or religious, we can also by our behaviour both block people’s access to Jesus and be far from him ourselves also.

Included here is verse 14, left out of some texts, where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of saying long prayers but not hesitating to take money (for the Temple, of course) from widows, the poorest of the poor. Considering that widows were among the most destitute and insecure of people in Jewish society, this was exploitation of the most base kind. A comparison in our own day would be with the ways in which some “televangelists” have been known to rake in money from poor and gullible people who should be receiving rather than giving.

2, You travel over land and sea to make a single convert… (v.15)

While they try to prevent people approaching Jesus, they themselves zealously go to great lengths to make even a single convert, only to make that person even worse than themselves. They do this by corrupting them with false ideas of what true religion is. They fill them ideas about ritual purification and thus create a false sense of security about what really brings about salvation. At this time Jewish proselytisation was very active in the Greek and Roman world.

Parallels can be found in our own days among Christian groups.

3, You say, if a man swears by the Temple it has no force… (vv.16-22)

Here Jesus’ attack is directed at the leaders’ greed and their corruption of religion for material gain. They persuade people to swear by the gold of the temple and make them pay. People are told not to swear by the altar but by the gift they have put there. Which is more holy, Jesus asks, the temple or the gold which the temple makes holy, the altar or the gift which the altar sanctifies? Again, in the name of holiness, the Pharisee-types are exploiting the poor.

Daily we see the abuse of authority and power, whether in the Church, in government, in business leading to all kinds of greed and corruption which undermines the very fabric of societies. Positions of service are turned into instruments of personal gain, often at the expense of the weakest and the most needy. Countries which long ago should have become rich and prosperous and provided with a high quality of life for their people are bankrupt, in every sense of the word, while a small elite live lives of shameless luxury.

The Church, too, can find itself over-concerned with matters of money at the expense of its pastoral mission. A diocese, a parish, a bishop or priest who is rich in a world of poverty and need is a major stumbling block to the hearing of the Gospel.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

The business about swearing on the Temple or on the gold, on the altar or the gift, on heaven or the throne of God seems a bit of a fuss about nothing to me. But maybe that is because Christianity has successfully stretched the boundaries of sanctity. For example, did anyone claim that human life itself was sacred 2000 years ago?

The word 'sacred' means set apart, and so does the word 'pharisee'. There is a sharp distinction between the sacred and the profane. Maybe Our Lord here is trying to show the Pharisees the ludicrous consequences of setting such strict limits.

The Christian idea of sanctity is much less rigid. Nothing is by its nature unclean. But perhaps it is equally possible for us today to take this idea to a ludicrous extreme, where nothing is sacred.

I suppose the idea of the sanctity of human life originates in the fact that, alone in creation, human beings can pray, setting us apart for God. If this is where the roots of the sanctity of human life lie, we should all be worried when sanctity is seen as just another social taboo to be broken.

'The sanctity of marriage' is another common notion that already seems to have gone the way of primitive social taboos. I'm trying to think of others, but these two are so significant ...!