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Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

2 Thess. 3:6-10, 16-18 & Mt. 23:27-32

Some of the Thessalonians were so convinced that Jesus would come very soon that they gave up working. They thought if Jesus' second coming is imminent what was the point of ploughing, sowing and harvesting? St Paul told them how he had worked when he was among them and had not wanted to be a burden to them. They must carry on working, too, and was very strong in his condemnation of those who could work and didn’t … they were not to be fed.

Now it is almost 2,000 years since Christ ascended into Heaven and still we have no idea when He will come again. All we know is that God’s kingdom is still in a period of growth and we, as are all God’s people, are called upon to contribute to its building. We should have the correct attitude to work and the Second Vatican Council has much to say about the authentic meaning of work in God's plan. “When men and women provide for themselves and their families in such a way as to be service to the community as well, they can rightly look upon their work as a prolongation of the work of the Creator, a service to their fellow men and their personal contribution to the fulfillment of the divine plan.”

The Council encourages people to use their talents and expertise. “Far from considering the conquests of man's genius and courage as opposed to Gods power, as if he set himself up as a rival to the Creator, the Christian ought to be convinced that the achievements of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the fulfilment of His ineffable design.”

The Pharisees once again are the subject of today's Gospel passage. They were a spiritual elite whose forefathers suffered martyrdom rather than deny their faith. They devoted hours to learning the law which was not just the written precepts of the Old Testament but also the tradition of the elders. They were preoccupied with ritual purity.

They were on a collision course with Jesus Whose 'woes' are better understood as lamentations. He grieves over their play-acting: their religion is a sham - they say one thing and do another.

Before religious festivals tombs were whitewashed for two reasons: it was a way of making those that were drab look good (Ezek. 13:8-16) and to draw pilgrim’s attention to them (Num. 19:16). Jesus compared the Pharisees to the whitewashed tombs because, in God’s eyes, they were corrupt and lifeless.

Jesus' final woe goes right to the heart of their differences. He delivers His body-blow that must have hurt. The scribes and Pharisees give the impression of honouring their prophets but, in so many words, Jesus is saying, 'How ridiculous! When the One whom these prophets spoke about appears among you, what do you do? You want to kill Him!' They had lost sight of their need of salvation. Their religion had hardened their hearts. The practice of their faith, impressive as it was, had made God’s grace in them impenetrable.

We should not be too hasty to condemn the Pharisees. We can easily lose sight of our shared mission to build God's kingdom, judging by appearances rather than having hearts that love God and our neighbour.

Lord Jesus, let us spend time every day in prayer, so that we may know God's forgiveness, and His love may be poured into our hearts. Help us to try and cleanse our hearts and minds of sinful desires, so that we can live as God wants.

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