1ST THESSALONIANS 1: 1 – 5, 8b – 10
The beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 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 labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; 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. 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.
The Word of the Lord
Psalm 149:1b – 6a, 9bc (R.) 4a
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
Sing a new song to the LORD,
His praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker;
Let Sion’s children exult in their king. R.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
And make music with timbrel and harp,
For the LORD takes delight in his people;
He crowns the poor with salvation. R.
Let the faithful exult in glory,
And rejoice as they take their rest.
Let the praise of God be in their mouths
This is an honour for all his faithful. R.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; and I know them, and they follow me.
MATTHEW 23: 13 – 22
At that time: Jesus said, “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. 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. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits up on it.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
REFLECTION: Unity of Truth and Virtue
August 23, 2021
“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.” (Matthew 23:13)
Today begins Jesus’ “Woe to you…” condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees. He issues seven subsequent condemnations. The one quoted above is His first. At the time, Jesus’ condemnations of these religious leaders fell mostly on deaf ears. They were obstinate and would not listen to what Jesus had to say. But it’s useful to note that these condemnations appear to actually be spoken about the scribes and Pharisees to the disciples and the crowds to whom Jesus was speaking.
Though there are many lessons we can learn from our Lord, let’s consider the first thing He says. He condemns hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is essentially saying one thing and doing another. It’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Hypocrisy can also come in the form of trying to present oneself as if one has every virtue under Heaven but in reality cares little for the clear doctrine and moral precepts given us by God. In the scripture passage, the scribes and Pharisees claimed to be leading people to salvation, but they were condemning the very source of salvation. On one hand, some of what they taught was true, but they failed to teach with the virtue that comes from God. On the other hand, some of what they taught was flat-out erroneous, because they were more concerned about their public persona than they were about the truth. Essentially, they were hypocrites, because their words and actions were neither united in the truth nor lived through the virtues given by God.
These two opposing tendencies seem to be a source of much division within our Church today. On the extreme “right,” we have those who preach doctrine but fail to exercise the necessary virtue so as to be effective instruments of those truths. And on the extreme “left” are those who act as if so-called virtue is all that matters. They deemphasize the clear and unambiguous moral and doctrinal truths that were given to us by our Lord, so that others will praise them for appearing kind, accepting and compassionate toward all. The problem is that one cannot exclude truth from virtue or virtue from truth. Compassion is not compassionate if it lacks truth, and the truth is not true if it is not presented with the virtues by which our Lord wants them brought forth. And though the scribes and Pharisees appear to be more focused upon their interpretations of various truths to the exclusion of virtue, their struggle with hypocrisy is just as real for those on both extremes today.
Reflect, today, upon the importance of embracing each and every moral and doctrinal precept given by our Lord. We must embrace everything He says with every fiber of our being. Reflect, also, upon how you express these teachings of Jesus to others. Do you strive to present the full Gospel with the greatest virtue? The deeper the truth, the more necessary is the virtue with which it is presented. And the more virtue you have, the better instrument of the full truth you will be. Strive to overcome every form of hypocrisy within your life by working toward true holiness. Holiness is wholeness. The Truth united to virtue. Only then will you escape from the condemnation of our Lord, but you will also thrive as a pure instrument of His saving grace.
My saving Lord, You desired deeply that the religious leaders of the time be powerful instruments of Your saving Gospel by presenting all truth in pure love. Please free me from every error so that Your holy Word will be alive in me and will be sent forth to others through the manifestation of the many virtues You wish to bestow. Jesus, I trust in You.