You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.
O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there. (R./)
If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea's furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast. (R./)
If I say: 'let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,'
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors."
The readings offer two appraisals of the value of our human activity. Paul praises dutiful work while the gospel condemns empty "works." Paul’s church-work was voluntary and unpaid, so he needed to support himself by manual work as a tentmaker. Clearly he spent most of what he earned, and only a little could have been left over, to spend as he wished or to share with the poor. Yet Paul knows the value of his unpaid work. He is convinced that the Gospel message was more than just one man’s opinion, for it is "the word of God, at work within you who believe." The Spirit must be at work upon hearts before one can believe. Paul’s missionary work was to help enable people recognize God at work in their lives.
People who are willing to be thoroughly honest have a better chance of being used by God than others who stress hierarchy and superiority, affecting to be sacred and remote. Conscious sanctity or other-worldliness carries the threat of pride, so destructive of healthy human relations.
Image and appearance are important in our digital culture. There is an emphasis on looking well, and people go to great lengths to cultivate their digital imageon social media platforms. Jesus highlights our inner reality rather than our social image. What matters is how people are, within themselves. He himself must have looked very bedraggled as he hung dying on the cross; but that was when the love within him was at most intensely and powerfully effective. The widow who put two copper coins into the Temple treasury looked insignificant and her contribution paltry. Yet Jesus saw her generous heart, prepared like him to give everything, so he called his disciples to learn from her.
Appearances can be deceptive. The scribes and Pharisees had less substance than image. In the case of the widow and Christ crucified there was more than met the eye. Christ tells us not to care so much how we appear to others as for the quality of love in our heart. We need more often to invite the Holy Spirit to kindle the fire of God’s love within us.