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Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

2 Thess. 1:1-5, 11-12 & Mt. 23:13-22

We hear people brag about how well their children are doing at school, how much they enjoy driving their sports car, how beautiful is their garden and how wonderful are their holidays. There is nothing wrong in taking pride in these things. They play an important part in our lives.

But how often have you heard people brag about their church? Indeed, why is this not the most important source of pride, in our daily lives? Perhaps the reason is that we as a church are not doing the things that deserve such praise. In St Paul's letter to the Thessalonians he expressed great pride in their church. But notice what filled him with pride. He did not compliment them for their splendid stain glass windows or their velvet cushioned pews. He did not mention the priest’s beautiful vestments, nor the magnificent pipe organ. He took pride in their faith! And he can boast of their constancy in that faith in persecution and in trial. That’s what makes the difference between an ordinary and a great church – one is filled with people who practice what they preach.

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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