1Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11; Luke 4:31-37
Readings like these always give me a jolt. On the one hand, they contain promises of deliverance and beatitude for the children of the light. On the other hand, they warn of a coming wrath in which God will surprise the wicked like a thief in the night and from which no one will escape. Although Paul assures us that we are all “children of light and of day,” and will, therefore, escape this wrath, there remains the lingering question, how do we know? I imagine that question was not lost upon Paul’s audience. I sometimes use this technique on my kids: “your mother and I know, honey, that you would never be involved in that sort of thing, but just in case you are, here is what might happen to you.” You parents know the drill. For most things, these threats are simply designed to pique a moral conscience that is, hopefully, already fairly well formed. However, the events that might follow the Lord’s coming like a thief in the night seem to be quite a bit more serious and carry more dire consequences should we be caught in the dark.
“Who is this guy?”
“Isn’t he so-and-so’s kid?”
“Get outta here!”
“Where do you get off coming in here and lecturing us like this?”
“Take a hike!”
“Who do you think you are, anyway?”
Luke tells us: “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”
Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; Jm 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Jm 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
James leads us to understand the importance of practical Christianity, that "faith without good works is dead" (James 2:17). He makes two important points in today's reading. He teaches the importance of faith in action, and he defines for us what true devotion is. True devotion is not a matter of hearing good preaching and celebrating inspiring liturgies. Good preaching and inspiring liturgies are wonderful. Yet the litmus test of true devotion remains how we live out the word of God that we hear.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor
(354 – 430)
A psychologist, theologian, and working bishop is the greatest convert after Saint Paul
The mighty African Saint Augustine climbed the heights of thought, stood upright on their peaks, and turned toward Rome, and thus spread his long, deep shadow over the entire globe. As a Christian thinker, he has few equals. He is the saint of the first millennium. Augustine was born in the small Roman village of Tagaste, in Northern Africa, to a minor civil official and a pious, head-strong mother. Tagaste had no swagger. Its simple people were bent over from working the land since time immemorial. The great African cities hugged the Mediterranean coast, far from Tagaste, which was cut off, two hundred miles inland. When he was a boy, Augustine imagined what the far-off waves of the sea were like by peering into a glass of water. When he was twenty-eight, he descended from his native hills and sailed for Rome to find himself, God, and holy fame. When he returned to Africa many years later, it was forever. The hot-tempered young African had matured into a cool-headed spiritual father. He was now their bishop, lovingly and tirelessly serving the open, forthright townsmen that were his natural kin.
Saint Monica, also known as Monica of Hippo, is St. Augustine of Hippo's mother. She was born in 331 A.D. in Tagaste, which is present-day Algeria.
When she was very young, she was married off to the Roman pagan Patricius, who shared his mother's violent temper. Patricius' mother lived with the couple and the duo's temper flares proved to be a constant challenge to young Monica.
When I was young and first heard today’s Gospel reading, I envisioned a watchman posted in a lookout tower, ready to sound the alarm and let everyone know that he sees Jesus coming down the road, and everyone should get ready. I suspect a young person today hearing this reading for the first time would not think about the watch tower guard at all, but rather, a 24/7 security camera.
1 Thess 2:9-13; Mt 23:27-32
The gospel for today changes the tone as it sends us a strong message with Jesus warning,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth.
Jesus challenges the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders, who have robbed religion of its meaning by focusing only on laws and appearances. We can tell he's angry, because their pseudo-holiness not only doesn't take people deeper into their faith, but causes others to turn away, making them cynical about religion. In so many ways, Jesus reminds us that our holiness has to be better than the mere "externals" of religion. It's about a change of heart, an interior conversion, about placing our trust completely in him. He is "heartsick" that these people whom he loved had hardened their hearts so much against his message.
Michael Willmann: Häutung des Hl. Bartholomäus, Ölskizze um 1660
I suspect that Nathaniel was rather young at the time that this event occurred: he shows the sort of cynicism which I associate with young men in their late teens at the same time as being rather pure or "free from guile," again something that I would associate with a young man trying to be innocent and pure of heart. I do not think that Jesus is being sarcastic in what he says; this is just part of the amazing exchange of names and titles at the heart of this reading and the one preceding it.
1Thessalonians 1:2-5, 8-10; Matthew 23:13-22
The Gospel of Matthew and the reading to the Thessalonians seem to be juxtaposed for the point of comparing those who are living a holy life and those who are pretending to. We learn from the readings that the Pharisees are those who say the right things according to God’s word, but fail to act in accordance with it (Matthew 23: 3-4), while the Thessalonians endured suffering and opposition when first following Christ, but did not depart in words and actions from all that Paul had taught them about following Christ. The Thessalonians’ faith became known everywhere because of their “modeling”, their faithful actions.
Josh 24:1-2, 15-18; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6: 60-69
Many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening said, «This saying is hard; who can accept it?» Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." Jn 6: 60-69
1) What kind of disciple am I? Am I really willing every day to learn at the school of Jesus, to receive his teaching, which is not the doctrine of human beings but the wisdom of the Holy Spirit?
2) "This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?" Is it really the Word of the Lord that is hard or is it my heart that wants only to close itself and no longer listen?
The first part of our gospel reading of today could well be taken as Christ's attack on clericalism, an attitude that is not foreign to us today. This presumption of status, power, wisdom, and authority among us priests and religious has done a great deal to harm the credibility of our message. Christ goes on, in the second part of the reading, to describe the road that we should prefer as his disciples, even if (especially if?) some of us are at the same time priests and shepherds. Notice that Jesus does not say that we should not be teachers or fathers (or mothers), only that we should not glory in the name or the position. We are to serve in those roles, and to serve with love and joy, but not to seek our profit or "exaltation" from them.
The beautiful words that end the gospel reading today – Love God with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself – pack a real punch for me. Jesus says that the whole law and the prophets (shorthand: the entire Hebrew Bible) is contained in these two texts that he culls from the bible. Love of God and love of neighbor is the whole thing. Now that’s saying a lot!