Affirmation, Critique and Invitation

1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8b-10; Matthew 23:13-22

When I was a seminarian, our preaching professor regularly evaluated our work. He would always begin with some affirmations, and he would inevitably continue with some criticisms. His purpose was very clear:  he wanted us to grow as preachers and ministers.

Our scripture readings today similarly begin with an enthusiastic affirmation and continue with an equally severe criticism. These are also intended to help us grow as disciples and ministers.

In our first reading, St. Paul praises the church at Thessalonica and gives thanks for their faith, hope and love in Jesus. This is evident not only in their words but also in their actions. The power of the Holy Spirit is very evident in their commitment to the gospel and to the church.

The scribes and Pharisees in our gospel reading are not so lucky. Jesus condemns them for their hypocrisy. They claim to be orthodox and observers of God’s law, but their actions demonstrate that they have ignored both the spirit and the letter of that law. 

They use the law as an instrument of power to control others, to benefit themselves, and to feed their egos. They have forgotten that God, through Moses, gave his people the law to help them to grow in holiness and to serve him and others in love. They abuse their roles and authority. Instead of gaining converts for God, they are leading people into sin. 

Yesterday in our gospel reading (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus urged us to strive to enter through the narrow door. Today he reminds us that the way is through faith, hope, love and humble service. Let’s keep striving!