1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.
We are sometimes tempted to sanitize or tame Jesus into this “nice guy” and forget that he took some hard stances without compromise. Today’s gospel, however, is not one of those portraits of “nice guy Jesus”. His stern rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, however, might resonate with us as a modern audience when we recall that Jesus is calling out the powerful and the religious leaders of his day for putting on a devout public face while committing sins and crimes in private. We too have experienced scandals in our day, of powerful people and religious leaders committing crimes in private while putting on devout public faces and looking the other way, and we may feel comforted to know that Jesus condemns such actions unequivocally. But while we trust our merciful King and the one truly Just Judge to deal with these crimes and those that have committed them in the long term, how do we respond as Christians? And how do we avoid hypocrisy ourselves?
The words from our other scriptures today, the letter to the Thessalonians and the psalm, can offer us some instruction. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul reminds the believers that they have received the word of God and that it is at work in them, and exhorts them to live a life worthy of God. They are called to be constantly converted inside and out; to let the word of God work within them, and to live pure lives worthy of this word outwardly. And in the psalm, the psalmist reminds us of the omnipresence of God, who is within us and around us wherever we go, and makes even the darkness light. So if we are constantly mindful of God’s presence and attuned to him, we do not think of hiding or fleeing from Him, but rather live constantly in and under his grace.
Am I mindful of God’s presence in my life, and do I consider that God observes all my words, my actions, and even my thoughts? Do I spend time in the word of God and let it change me? Do I condone or overlook acts of hypocrisy in others, or do I seek to call them out and bring them into the light?
Today, let’s pray for our church and its leaders, that God would bring justice and light into places where darkness and secrecy still hide and healing to victims. And let’s pray for ourselves and all the faithful, that we might receive and accept the word of God, live lives worthy of our Lord, and become a church worthy of him. St. Augustine, pray for us!