23Aug 23 Aug, Tuesday of Week 21

1 Thess 2:1ff. Paul preached and worked among the Thessalonians with a spirit of gentle service, not of dominance.

Matt 23:23ff. Through wholesome integrity we are to focus on the ethical priorities: justice, mercy and good faith.

Gentle Strength

Paul combines attitudes that at first may seem contradictory. Though strong and independent, he is “gentle as any nursing mother.” In no way did he plan his actions merely to please others, yet he was anxious to share very lives of h is people. He values practical, everyday decision-making, even while he points ahead to the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Another contradiction seems to flare up in the preaching of Jesus. He reverses what the Scribes and Pharisees consider essential and what they judge of leser importance. Moreover, his attitude to the Law is that all depends on the spirit with which it is kept. This could become very subjective, so that people would act more by their feelings than by their principles.

Because biblical religion deals with a mixture of mutual charity and of total obedience to God, of external laws and inner spirit, of ancient traditions and future hopes, it will always have to face seemingly irreconcilable factors. Unless there is trust in God and in each other, no principles will be enough.

The Scribes and Pharisees are so nearsighted by selfishness and vainglory as to “neglect the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and good faith.” Despite their zeal to make others clean on the outside, they are unwilling to cleanse what is inside themselves. One of the ways to sidestep God’s demand for a sincere, integral religion is to focus attention on small matters, “straining out the gnats.” Another way, as Paul points out today, is to be all absorbed in our Lord’s second coming, peering into the clouds with ecstatic fixation while doing nothing immediate needs of life.

In First Thessalonians we find a number of practical norms to keep religion free from weird excesses and in tune with the highest ideals. Paul asks the Christians to practice courage in the face of great opposition; to seek to please God, “the tester of our hearts,” rather than impressing others; to avoid flattery or greed under any pretext. He points to his own behaviour: gentle as any nursing mother; sharing with you not only God’s tidings but our very lives, so dear had you become to us. These everyday yet heroic expressions of faith can be attempted by anyone even today, in line with Paul’s policy of honesty and openness.

First Reading: 1Th 2:1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Gospel: Matthew 23:23-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

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