2Thes 2:1-3a,14-17; Ps 96:10-13; Mt 23:23-26
The LORD comes as king of the nations. He is the ruler of every nation because he has made the world firm, not to be moved; he governs the peoples with equity. He is ruler of every political grouping of human beings because he is the God who made us in his own image and likeness. He knows each of us individually, and all of us collectively better than we know ourselves. Indeed, today’s psalm summons us as his children to join in the gladness of heaven and the rejoicing of the earth. He wants the sea and what fills it to join in our resounding exaltation. The LORD summons the plains to be joyful and all those who dwell in them to rejoice. For the LORD comes to rule the earth, he will rule the peoples with his constancy. Saint Paul wants his spiritual children in Thessalonica not to be alarmed, but they are to stand firm in the truth they have learned from him. The Lord Jesus has one final urgent plea for his opponents, the Pharisees: “cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” Both Saint Paul and the Lord Jesus continue to summon us to holiness in this liturgy. Both call us to courage of heart and strength in every good deed and word.
There is a difference between being ready for the coming of the LORD and living as an alarmist in fear all the days of your life. It seems that some of these alarmists lived in Thessalonica during the ministry of Saint Paul. In his second letter, he speaks to those who are full of fear and to those who are alarming others because of their deceptions. It seems that some of these pseudo experts had shaken up the community by claiming the authority of a “spirit” or by the oral statements of these spirits. Others claimed to have received a letter from Saint Paul to the effect that the end of the world as we know it is right around the corner. To all his faith-filled disciples in Thessalonica Saint Paul teaches: “Let no one deceive you in any way.” What Saint Paul writes to his beloved spiritual children, we too, must hear in our own day. There are still alarmists among us who waste time and resources using fear to force conversion within and outside the church. The end of the world, as we know it, is not something to be afraid of; it is the long awaited beginning of the coming of the Kingdom of God. We are to hold fast to this apostolic doctrine. We are to receive, in public and private prayer, the love and encouragement of the Lord Jesus and His Father through the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. It is because of such prayer that we can live in love with one another, awaiting the fulfillment of that love in the Kingdom that has already begun among us.
The Lord Jesus again criticizes the scribes and Pharisees; they are the recipients of yet another set of “woes”. Perhaps this ongoing critique, of his opponents and the opposition of the early church, flows out of our Lord’s love for his enemies, or perhaps he is warning us, and every generation of the church, to avoid their destructive ways of thinking. It seems that these religious experts were content to influence the people by regulation of tithes, even those tithes that apply to spices, rather than struggle to challenge the people about the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. The Lord Jesus spends his teaching and ministry on such weightier matters. He teaches about the judgment we are to avoid and the judgment we must make. We cannot judge a human soul, but we must judge observable behavior. He teaches about mercy by laying down his life in sacrifice upon the cross to expose to all people the mystery of the Father’s boundless mercy. The Lord also teaches about fidelity by remaining with his disciples to the end of the ages. Someone has to regulate tithes, but it is even more important to inspire the people with the example of your love. The Lord Jesus uses a visual jest when he says about the scribes and Pharisees, “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!” You are careful not to swallow an insect but you are blind to the camel that jumps into your dish. That dish is clean outside; it looks sanitary, but it is full of plunder and self-indulgence. The insides and the outsides must be clean; otherwise you will only appear to be healthy and holy. The people inside and outside the church need healthy and holy leaders so that it may summon all creation into the Kingdom of God.