Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.
To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
The Thessalonians live and act in such a way as to "prove" their faith; the blind guides in the gospel destroy faith by legalistic hairsplitting. Compared to the Scribes and Pharisees, the Thessalonian Christians possessed only elementary training in their religion. The fact that they would easily misunderstand Paul's words about the second coming of Jesus shows that they had gone no further than the ABCs of the faith. This problem will show up again in next week's readings). Still other problems surfaced at Thessalonica according to Acts 17:1-15.
While the Scribes and Pharisees quoted Scripture much more eloquently and precisely and were much more successful in gaining converts to Judaism than the Thessalonians to Christianity, nonetheless, the latter were proving their faith more effectively. No one proves faith by logical words pondered by the mind or even by miraculous actions seen by the eye. Even the Egyptian magicians could match Moses' actions, and the devil can quote Scripture for evil purposes. Faith is proved by intuitions of the spirit and by manifestations of the spirit. Its supernatural language is spoken through acts of love and fidelity: By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another (John 13:35). Intuitions of the spirit are communicated through the vibrations of sincerity, honesty, humility and other fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22).
In this spirit Paul had come to Thessalonica, preaching the gospel "not merely in words" but out of complete conviction. In the same spirit the church he founded there lived the faith so vibrantly that reports of their faith spread to other places too. They confidently awaited from heaven the Son whom God raised from the dead, "Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come." Faith was much more than a recital of past events, for it looked to the future too, awaiting the messianic kingdom. This expectation should not make us dreamers, overlooking the basic needs of our neighbour. Rather, it prompts us to be "labouring in love." The reading from the 2 Thessalonians joins the two ideas clearly: as faith grows so mutual love increases, and results in a spirit of "constancy."
The gospel refers to the faith seen among the Scribes and Pharisees. When Jesus declares that their actions are "few," he means actions worthy of imitation. He goes on to say that their works were performed to be seen. Their religious practices were to enhance their reputation; converts were trophies to be displayed. By using a refined legalism they justified doing what the law prohibits. Jesus' words here are so severe that we almost wonder if he was being guided by the charity which ought to direct all words and actions? The liturgy does not include other lines which help to put the entire speech into a perspective of love and compassion, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, murderer of prophets and stoner of those who were sent to you. How I have yearned to gather your children, as a mother bird gathers her young under her wings, but you refused me."
Jesus was very critical of those who were an obstacle to other people coming to believe in him. He was critical of his own disciples for trying to prevent children drawing near to him, in spite of the wishes of the children's parents to the contrary. He was critical of those who tried to prevent blind Bartimaeus from making contact with him. Rather than shutting up the kingdom of heaven in people's faces, Jesus wants his followers to open up the kingdom of heaven to others. We are to lead each other to the Lord, to reveal the Lord to each other, and support one another on our journey towards the kingdom of heaven.
There are many people in the gospels who brought others to Jesus and who can be an inspiration to us. We only have to think of John the Baptist whose life mission was to lead people to Jesus and in that way to open up the kingdom of heaven to others. Saint Paul was very aware of his calling to lead others to the Lord. In today's 1st reading he reminds the church in Thessalonica of "the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction." We all need the support of each other's faith, each other's lived witness, as we journey on our pilgrim way through life.[MH]