First Reading: From the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12
1 Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonica which is in God our Father and the LordJesus Christ
2 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We must always thank God for you, brothers; quite rightly, because your faith is growing so wonderfully and the mutual love that each one of you has for all never stops increasing.
4 Among the churches of God we take special pride in you for your perseverance and faith under all the persecutions and hardships you have to bear.
5 It all shows that God’s judgement is just, so that you may be found worthy of the kingdom of God; it is for the sake of this that you are suffering now.
11 In view of this we also pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his call, and by his power fulfil all your desires for goodness, and complete all that you have been doing through faith;
12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in him, by the grace of ourGod and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Responsorial Psalm:From Psalms 96:1-2, 2-3, 4-5
1 Sing a new song to Yahweh! Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!
2 Sing to Yahweh, bless his name! Proclaim his salvation day after day,
3 declare his glory among the nations, his marvels to every people!
4 Great is Yahweh, worthy of all praise, more awesome than any of the gods.
5 All the gods of the nations are idols! It was Yahweh who made the heavens;
Gospel Reading: From the Gospel Account of Saint Matthew 23:13-22
13 ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut up the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go who want to.
15 ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and anyone who becomes one you make twice as fit for hell as you are.
16 ‘Alas for you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the Temple, it has no force; but anyone who swears by the gold of the Temple is bound.”
17 Fools and blind! For which is of greater value, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?
18 Again, “If anyone swears by the altar it has no force; but anyone who swears by the offering on the altar, is bound.”
19 You blind men! For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred?
20 Therefore, someone who swears by the altar is swearing by that and by everything on it.
21 And someone who swears by the Temple is swearing by that and by the One who dwells in it.
22 And someone who swears by heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.
Theme: Do not close the door to God’s kingdom
When the Lord Jesus knocks on the door of your heart are you ready to answer and receive him (Revelations 3:20)? The Lord offers each one of us an open door to the kingdom of God, but we can shut ourselves out if we ignore or reject his offer. What is the door to the kingdom of heaven? When Jacob fled from his brother Essau, who wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright (Genesis 27:41), Jacob sought refuge in the wilderness. There God pursued him and gave him a vision that both changed his life and the life of his people. As Jacob slept on a star-lit hillside God showed him a great ladder or stairway that extended from earth to heaven. This stairway was filled with a multitude of angels ascending and descending before the throne of God.
An open door to the throne of God
God opened heaven to Jacob, not only to give him a place of refuge and peace, but to offer him the blessing of dwelling in intimate friendship with the living God. God spoke to Jacob and renewed the promises which he had made to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, and now to Jacob and his descendants. God promised not only to bless and protect Jacob, but to make him and his descendants a blessing to all the nations as well. When Jacob awoke he exclaimed: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). God opened a door for Jacob that brought him and his people into a new relationship with the living God.
Jesus is the door to God’s kingdom
Jesus proclaimed to his disciples that he came to fulfill the prophetic dream of Jacob in his very own person: “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51). Jesus proclaimed that he is the door (John 10:8-9) and the way (John 14:6) that makes it possible for us to access heaven and God’s very throne. But Jesus woefully warned the religious leaders and successors of Jacob that they were shutting the door of God’s kingdom not only on themselves but on others as well. The word woe expresses sorrowful pity as well as grief and sadness.Why did Jesus lament and issue such a stern rebuke?
Don’t be misled by wrong-headed teachers
Jesus was angry with the religious leaders because they failed to listen to God’s word and they misled the people they were supposed to teach and lead in the ways of God. They were blindly leading people to “pharisaism”- to their own ideas, rules, and practices which God did not intend or require – rather than to God’s intention and way of life for his people. Jesus also chastised them for their hyprocisy – a hypocrite is an actor or imposter who says one thing but does the opposite. Jesus gave some examples to show how misguided they were in their thinking and practices.
In their zeal to win converts, the religious leaders required unnecessary and burdensome rules and practices which obscured the more important matters of religion, such as love of God and love of neighbor. And at the same time they made exceptions for themselves by devising clever ways to evade binding oaths and solemn promises which they had made to God. The Jews treated an oath made to God as a binding obligation that must not be broken under any circumstance, but the Pharisees found clever ways to evade their obligations when inconvenience got in the way. They forgot that God hears every word we utter (especially our oaths and promises) and he sees the intentions of our heart even before we speak or act.
God’s ways and thoughts are different from ours
The scribes and Pharisees preferred their idea of religion to God’s idea. They failed to lead others to God because they listened to their own ideas of what is true religion and they failed to understand the true meaning and intention of God’s word. Through their own pride and prejudice they blindly shut the door of their own hearts and minds to the truth of God’s kingdom.
The prophets of the Old Testament had repeatedly warned God’s people to seek the Lord and to put aside their own thoughts and ideas of religion in order to hear and understand God’s mind and intentions for his people. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts… For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9).
Seek God’s kingdom first
How can we shut the door of God’s kingdom in our own personal lives? We close it through stubborn pride, disobedience, and ignorance. Do you submit your mind to God’s word or do you cling to your own thoughts and ideas of what is right, true, and good for you? Do you allow the world’s way of thinking to form the way you think, act, and speak – or do you allow God’s word of truth to form the way you think, act, and speak? Do you ignore God’s word through indifference or lack of reflection on his word?
The Lord Jesus wants to speak to us each and every day – to help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of his love and truth. The Lord is knocking at the door of your heart – are you receptive and ready to listen to his voice as he speaks through his life-giving Word? God’s kingdom is always present to those who seek him with a humble mind and a willing heart. The Lord invites us to pray daily, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
“Lord Jesus, your word is life for me. May I never shut the door to your heavenly kingdom through my stubborn pride or disbelief. Help me to listen to your voice attentively and to conform my life more fully to your word.”