First Reading: From the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians 2:1-3, 14-16
1 About the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers, and our being gathered to him:
2 please do not be too easily thrown into confusion or alarmed by any manifestation of the Spirit or any statement or any letter claiming to come from us, suggesting that the Day of the Lord has already arrived.
3 Never let anyone deceive you in any way. It cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place and there has appeared the wicked One, the lost One,
14 Through our gospel he called you to this so that you should claim as your own the glory of our LordJesus Christ.
15 Stand firm, then, brothers, and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such ceaseless encouragement and such sure hope,
Responsorial Psalm:From Psalms 96:10, 11-12, 13
10 Say among the nations, ‘Yahweh is king.’ The world is set firm, it cannot be moved. He will judge the nations with justice.
11 Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad! Let the sea thunder, and all it holds!
12 Let the countryside exult, and all that is in it, and all the trees of the forest cry out for joy,
13 at Yahweh’s approach, for he is coming, coming to judge the earth; he will judge the world with saving justice, and the nations with constancy.
Gospel Reading: From the Gospel Account of Saint Matthew 23:23-26
23 ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay your tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law-justice, mercy, good faith! These you should have practiced, those not neglected.
24 You blind guides, straining out gnats and swallowing camels!
25 ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance.
26 Blind Pharisee! Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that it and the outside are both clean.
Theme: Do not neglect justice, mercy and faith
Do you allow any blind-spots to blur your vision of God’s kingdom and his ways? Jesus went to the heart of the matter when he called the religious leaders of his day blind Pharisees and hypocrites! A hypocrite is an actor or imposter who says one thing but does the opposite or who puts on an outward appearance of doing good while inwardly clinging to wrong attitudes, selfish desires and ambitions, or bad intentions. Many scribes and Pharisees had made it a regular practice to publicly put on a good show of outward zeal and piety with the intention of winning greater honors, privileges, and favors among the people. Jesus had a very good reason for severely rebuking the scribes and Pharisees, the religious teachers and leaders, for misleading people and neglecting the heart and essence of God’s law – love of God and love of neighbor
What forms our outward practices and habits?
The scribes in particular devoted their whole lives to the study of God’s law contained in the five books of Moses (Torah). As the religious experts of their day, they took great pride in their knowledge and outward observance of the commandments and precepts of the law of Moses. They further divided the 613 precepts of the Law of Moses into thousands of tiny rules and regulations. They were so exacting in their interpretations and in trying to live them out, that they had little time for much else. By the time they finished compiling their interpretations it took no less than fifty volumes to contain them! Jesus chastised them for neglecting the more important matters of religion, such as justice and the love of God. In their misguided zeal they had lost sight of God and of his purpose for the law.
God’s law of love reveals what is truly important and necessary
Jesus used the example of tithing to show how far they had missed the mark. God had commanded a tithe of the first fruits of one’s labor as an expression of thanksgiving and honor for his providential care for his people (Deuteronomy 14:22; Leviticus 27:30). The scribes, however, went to extreme lengths to tithe on insignificant things (such as tiny plants) with great mathematical accuracy. They were very attentive to minute matters of little importance, but they neglected to care for the needy and the weak. Jesus admonished them because their hearts were not right. They were filled with pride and contempt for others who were not like themselves. They put unnecessary burdens on others while neglecting to show charity, especially to the weak and the poor.
The scribes and Pharisees meticulously went through the outward observance of their religious duties and practices while forgetting the realities of God’s intention and purpose for the law – his love and righteousness (justice and goodness). Jesus used a humorous example to show how out of proportion matters had gotten with them. Gnats were considered the smallest of insects and camels were considered the largest of animals in Palestine. Both were considered ritually impure. The scribes went to great lengths to avoid contact with gnats, even to the point of straining the wine cup with a fine cloth lest they accidentally swallowed a gnat. The stark contrast must have drawn chuckles as well as groans.
God’s love shapes our minds and transforms our hearts and actions
What was the point of Jesus’ humorous and important lesson? The essence of God’s commandments is rooted in love – love of God and love of neighbor, righteousness (justice and goodness), and mercy. God is love and everything he does, including his justice and goodness, flows from his love for us. True love is costly and sacrificial – it both embraces and lifts the burdens of others. Do you allow the love of God to shape and transform the way you live your daily life – including the way you think of others, speak of them, and treat them?
“Lord Jesus, fill me with your love and mercy that I may always think, speak, and treat others with fairness, loving-kindness, patience, and goodness.”