28Aug 28 August. Tuesday, Week 21

1st Reading: 2 Thessalonians (2:1-3, 14-17)

Do not be unduly excited about the second coming of the Lord

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day, the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.

For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Responsorial (Ps 96)

R./: The Lord comes to rule the earth

Say among the nations: The Lord is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity. (R./)

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest rejoice… (R./)

Before the Lord, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (23:23-26)

Integrity is based on justice, mercy and good faith

Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”


True to our convictions

As a complex person, St Paul often combines attitudes that at first seem contradictory. Though he was a strong and independent personality, he can be “gentle as any nursing mother.” While he did not plan his actions merely to please others, yet he was anxious to share the lives of his people, or as he puts it “to be all things to all”. He values practical decision-making in everyday matters, even while convinced that the second coming of the Lord Jesus was not far off.

There’s a radical challenge in the message of Jesus, when he upends and reverses what Scribes and Pharisees have considered essential and what they judged to be of lesser value. His attitude to the Law is that it all depends on the spirit with which it is kept . This could of course become very subjective, so that people’s behaviour would be prompted more by their feelings than by their principles.

Because religion is a mixture of interactive charity and seeking to obey God, of external laws and inner spirit, of ancient traditions and future hopes, it will always involve some effort at personal discernment and searching one’s conscience. Unless there is trust in God and in each other, no principles will be enough. The Scribes and Pharisees have grown 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 may try to sidestep God’s demand for a sincere, integral by focusing attention on small matters, straining out the gnats . Another form of evasion, as Paul explains, is to be absorbed in awaiting our Lord’s second coming while not doing anything to solve the immediate needs of life.

The Apostle Paul offers many practical norms to keep religion free from weird excesses and in tune with the highest ideals. His Christians show courage in the face of opposition; seek to please God rather than impressing others; avoid greed under any pretext. He instances his own behaviour: gentle as a nursing mother; “sharing with you not only the Good News but our very lives too, so dear had you become to us.” His brand of Christianity has no place for idleness or total passivity.

Straining at gnats

The Gospel shows Jesus poking fun at mistaken beliefs. Notice how his imagery displays a wicked sense of humour. He accuses the Pharisees of straining out gnats and of swallowing camels. A gnat or mosquito is almost invisible; a camel is big and imposing. The picture of someone straining out a gnat so as not to swallow it, while happily devouring a camel is humorous in a zany kind of way. Clearly the image pokes fun at those who make a big deal about trivia while ignoring what is of vital importance, being scrupulous about paying tithes on herbs while ignoring justice, mercy and faith. Jesus wants us to have our priorities right, first things first.

It’s a common failing to obsess about trivia rather than focus on essentials. Jesus lists what is important as justice, mercy and faith. Justice and mercy concern our relationship with our neighbour; faith concerns our relationship with God. What really matters is getting those two relationships right; all else is secondary. St Paul puts it succinctly, ‘What matters is faith expressing itself in love.’ (Gal 5:6). Let’s hope that this may always be what matters in our own lives.

(Saint Augustine of Hippo, 354-430)

Born in 354 in North Africa of a Christian mother, Monica, and a pagan father, Patricius, Augustine was brought up a Christian although not baptized. His study of philosophy resulted in his renouncing the Christian faith. He lived for fifteen years with a woman, by whom he had a son. After moving to Rome and then to Milan, he came under the influence of Ambrose, bishop of Milan. As a result of Ambrose’s guidance, and his mother’s prayers and example over many years, he underwent a deep conversion and was baptized in his early thirties.

Augustine returned to Africa and was ordained priest and four years later was appointed Bishop of Hippo in the Roman province of North Africa; he remained in that post for 35 years until his death in 430. As a bishop he lived a community life with his clergy. He had a powerful intellect and great mystical insight. His most famous work is entitled the Confessions, in which he describes his own spiritual journey. Augustine’s life teaches us that it is never too late to turn to the Lord: ‘Late have I loved you, Beauty, at once so ancient and so new! Late have I loved you! You were within me and I was outside… You were with me, but I was not with you… You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.’.

One Response

  1. Brian Fahy

    Father Ray Kelly, an Irish parish priest, sang on a British talent show the song ‘Everybody hurts’ and turned a bemused audience into a cheering congregation. His voice is excellent and his rendering of the song was exquisite and the audience was enraptured by the sentiments there expressed. Everybody hurts and to know and understand this is to show justice, mercy and faith in human life in the drama of our days.

    Jesus gives good warning to us today,as to the Scribes and Pharisees of old, not to get sidetracked on things that do not matter, but to make sure that these central issues of justice and mercy and good faith remain central to our daily lives. Sometimes we are more concerned with pious practices than with true religion – coming to the help of widows and orphans in their need. But Jesus’ warning is as true for us as it was for the Pharisees of old.

    We all need to clean the inside of cup and dish first so that life for us in all our relationships will truly become clean. By God’s grace let us comfort and strengthen one another in justice, mercy and good faith. Everybody hurts.

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