27Aug 27 August 2013. Tuesday of the Twenty First Week

1 Thess 2:1ff. Paul preached and worked with gentleness towards the Thessalonians

Mt 23:23ff. We are to focus on the priorities: justice, mercy and good faith.

First Reading: 1 Thessalonians 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.

Gentle and Strong

St Paul manages to combine attitudes that are sometimes thought to be contradictory. Though a strongly independent self-starter, he tells his readers that he can be as gentle as any nursing mother, in his dealings with the Christian community where he lives. In no way did he plan his activities merely to please others, yet he was anxious to share very lives of  his people. He values practical commonsense in everyday life even while he points ahead to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

Another contrast can be found in the preaching of Jesus, when he reverses what the Scribes and Pharisees consider essential and gives priority to what they judge of lesser importance. 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 from their feelings than from their principles. But unless there is trust in God and in each other, cool principles will be enough to keep us on the right track.

Paul’s earliest letter (1 Thessalonians) offers several practical norms to keep religion free from weird excesses and yet point us to the highest ideals. The Christians were to practice courage in the face of opposition; and to always seek to please God who tests our hearts, rather than trying to impress others; to avoid flattery or greed under any pretext. They can learn from his own practical example: gentle as any nursing mother, “so dear had you become to us”. These everyday virtues can be attempted by anyone even today, in line with Paul’s policy of honesty and openness.