1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8-10
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Psalm 149:1-6, 9
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats,
This is glory for all his faithful ones.
“But 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.
In the reading in Thessalonians, there is praise and delight for the people who have received the gospel and established their own reputation for being faith-filled and hopeful people who share the word of God. St. Paul is so thankful for them and their conviction and power in the Holy Spirit. Then there is the last sentence about wrath. That gives us a sense of urgency. We don’t like to think of it but to have salvation implies that there is destruction coming.
In the gospel, Jesus is strongly challenging the Pharisees for their obtuse practices. He says that they are hypocrites keeping people out of the Kingdom of heaven, the opposite of what a true convert should do. Jesus promises them ‘woe’ as in the reading in Thessalonians, for the ‘wrath that is to come’. It is a warning to us that if the religious teachers of the day were so blind as to reverse the importance of the sanctuary and the altar, for the gold and the gift, we can get it backwards too. We can value all the wrong things.
As the people of Thessalonica, we can take a cue from the letter from St. Paul: be sure we have turned from idols and have hope in the word of God which is the scripture and the teaching authority in the Church. Today is always the best time to place our hope in Jesus and be ready to escape the wrath that is to come.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you for the gift of faith in Jesus who is my salvation. Unworthy though I am, I accept the gift of redemption by calling on Jesus to heal me and sanctify me. Through my life and my work in faith, may I help others to know you more and to become children of God and the Kingdom of heaven. Amen.