1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8B-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
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.
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 149:1B-6A, 9B
Praise the Lord!
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.
Praise the Lord!
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“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.
Today in the first reading, we hear about a praiseworthy group of converts: the Thessalonians. According to the letter, they were a chosen people, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit with faith, love, and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. They are the description of sanctification. Their faith works are well-known abroad as they work to serve God and await the coming of Jesus.
Contrast that to the gospel reading where Jesus warns of the woes that will befall the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They don’t understand the meaning of the word sanctification and their work leads people away from the Kingdom of God. The Thessalonians will be rescued from the wrath to come, but not the ones addressed by Jesus who also assures us that there is a judge on a throne in heaven.
Those who are given a big responsibility are going to have to answer for the people who are lost because of them. Those who “lock people out of the kingdom of heaven…who do not go in [them]selves, and when others are going in, stop them… (who) cross sea and land to make a single convert, and make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as [them]selves.” It is something that many today will have to answer for who have hidden vile sins of the clergy and let them proliferate rather than protect their flock.
The psalm tells us that God’s people are victorious who are faithful and humble. This is our responsibility. We do not have the false responsibility of ‘protecting the Church’. Our responsibility is in the work of conversion: bringing sin into the light, believing in Jesus and pleasing Him. When we do this we are the Church and we are a strengthened Church that will imitate Christ and lead others into the Kingdom of God.