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Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

1 Th. 1:2-5, 8-10 & Mt. 23:13-22

Today we begin reading from the earliest book of the New Testament, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The first Gospel was written 20 years later. Paul had already preached to them and they did two things for which he was very grateful. They accepted him, eagerly listening to his teaching; they took his message seriously, turning from idols to serve the one true God. Not only did they learn from Paul, but he received a new insight into the power of the Holy Spirit Who made these changes in their lives.

Like those early Thessalonians we, too, can listen carefully each time we hear the Scriptures and by continuing to be converted from the sinful ‘idols’ in our lives. Then we, too, will testify to the fact that God’s message is not mere words, but the power that the Holy Spirit gives us when we need it.

The scribes copied the Law of Moses by hand and knew every detail of it intimately. The Pharisees tried to preserve the Law from contamination. Both groups were held in high regard by their contemporaries because of their religious devotion. Remember, too, that the Pharisees included Nicodemus and Paul.

If so much about the scribes and Pharisees was praiseworthy, why did Jesus call them "hypocrites", "blind guides" and even "fools"? The reason is that they gave top priority to observing the details of the Law, completely neglecting what it said about mercy which they failed to recognise in the new covenant that God wanted to make with them.

Ironically they were missing the very thing to which they, as scribes and Pharisees, were supposed to dedicate their lives. They treasured the gold of the temple, but failed to treasure the God of the temple. Their blindness was so severe that they could not even recognize God's love made manifest in Jesus! It was unthinkable to them that God’s salvation could come through a poor Carpenter who readily associated with sinners and unbelievers. How could God use a Man who did not share all their convictions?

Keeping this in mind, we can see Jesus’ heart more clearly in His condemnation of the Pharisees. Imagine Him speaking these harsh words with tears in His eyes and a lump in His throat. Here was a group of individuals so fully devoted to God, yet blinded to the grace available to them. How tragic to see them reject Him!

In our own lives we, too, have certain ways of doing things, certain customs we are used to observing. But there may be something God wants to change in us, something new that He wants to accomplish in us. Perhaps we need to slow down doing what we have always done to hear Him speak to us in prayer. Perhaps there are habits and customs we need to reassess. Let's be attentive to the God of surprises who continues to work in unexpected ways!

Lord Jesus, You never let anyone stay the same - You changed Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus for the better! - so let us be open to whatever You teach us and the new things You want to do in our lives.

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