Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Twenty First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 23:13-22 - World English Bible

Jesus told the crowds:

13 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and as a pretense you make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

14 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you don't enter in yourselves, neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel around by sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much of a son of Gehennaž as yourselves.

16 "Woe to you, you blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.' 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obligated?' 19 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 He therefore who swears by the altar, swears by it, and by everything on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it, and by him who was living in it. 22 He who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God, and by him who sits on it."

In Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees primarily for their self-interest and social climbing. Now, he shifted his ire to a series of woes concerning their rulings on the Law. In the first four of the series, he chided them for their rigidity over mercy:

Legal judgments that drove widows further into poverty, only to to covered over by lengthy prayers.

Lifestyle entanglements that drew both themselves and their followers away from faith in the Kingdom.

Proselytizing even in the Diaspora, encouraging a zealous spirit in the convert that shut out any sense of compassion.

Minuet rulings on solemn oaths to YHWH that were more concerned with how one promised God then the gravity of a relationship with God.

Notice Jesus did not condemn the scribes and Pharisees for making rulings, but for the overarching importance of those legal findings. Court opinions and precedences neither comprised nor defined faith; they were only a means to an end, a deepening relationship with God. If they got in the way of trust, they and their authors were useless.

Faith is a matter of balance between orthodoxy (faith defined in dogmas) and orthopraxy (faith in action). Both point us toward God, but should not loom so large in life as to take us away from our Lord. Faith lost in the details is no faith at all.

Have you ever found yourself lost in the details of faith, only to lose sight of compassion for others?

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Tuesday in the Twenty First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 23:23-26 - World English Bible

Jesus told the crowd:

23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel!

25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and unrighteousness. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the platter, that its outside may become clean also."

In Matthew 23:15-16, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes in a series of woes. Here, he continued his rant over their concern for right action. The scribes and Pharisees created a system of rulings and customs to help urban Jews to keep the Law. Since city dwellers feel more comfortable living in a more regulated environment, such a lifestyle might strike someone from the country like Jesus as constrictive. Again, using extreme language in Matthew, he focused on tithing spices (!) to complain about their obsessive drive on detail (straining the gnat) and their inability to see the larger picture of mercy (swallowing the camel).

Jesus carried his critique over to their spirituality. Such focus on minutia tended to smother the virtue of compassion. Take, for example, personal preparation for a community meal, like the washing of cups and plates. The mention of such customs only occurred in the gospels (here and Mark 7:3-8), but ritual baths were common at the time. Bathing "washed away" the pollution of daily life among the unclean (Gentiles) and prepared the person for a communal meal that focused on the presence of God. Could such washings of cups and plates merely be extensions of the ritual bath? We don't know. But, certainly such practices, if used, would emphasize behavior over intention. Thus, Jesus criticized such obsession; he viewed the kosher as interior (the heart) as well as the exterior (the acts).

Intention and action are both important to a spiritual life. We cannot emphasize one over the other. If we do, we will become as unbalanced as the scribes and the Pharisees Jesus criticized.

How have you balanced your faith life this week?

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Wednesday in the Twenty First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 23:27-32 - World English Bible

Jesus told the crowds:

27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and decorate the tombs of the righteous, 30 and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn't have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' 31 Therefore you testify to yourselves that you are children of those who killed the prophets."

In the last two woes of Matthew 23, Jesus ramped up his criticism of the scribes and Pharisees with two charges: internal impurity and murder of the prophets. Both continued his rant from 23:25-26; both laid the worst type of charges against his opponents.

Jesus stated those who set the standards for kosher were themselves as unclean as rotting corpses. YHWH demanded purity among the people; those who acted as a gates to such a holy existence became what they guarded against because of their rigidity in practice. Such a highly regulated lifestyle left no place for compassion (23:13, 23-24). In the place of mercy stood a narcissistic evil.

Jesus saved the worst for last. The scribes and the Pharisees, the men who honored the prophets by defining the Hebrew scriptures as "the Law and the prophets," implicitly opposed the heroes of the past. Over and over, evil men cut down those who spoke God's Word of care for the weak and the poor. The Lord charged his enemies with sharing the intent of those who killed God's messengers. Both placed self concern and self preservation over the good of others. So, the scribes and the Pharisees were the spiritual children of those who murdered the prophets.

The woes of Jesus stand as a caution sign to our spiritual life. We should not allow our practices to cloud our view of the good we can bring others.

Over the past three days we've considered a balanced spiritual life, molding practice and compassion. What progress have you made toward that balance?

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Thursday in the Twenty First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 24:42-51 - World English Bible

Jesus said to his disciples:

42 "Watch therefore, for you don't know in what hour your Lord comes. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don't expect, the Son of Man will come.

45 "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. 47 Most certainly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has. 48 But if that evil servant should say in his heart, 'My lord is delaying his coming,' 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 the lord of that servant will come in a day when he doesn't expect it, and in an hour when he doesn't know it, 51 and will cut him in pieces, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be."

Matthew 24 marked the fifth and final discourse of Jesus in the gospel. In this section, Jesus taught his followers about the end times and finished with household parables, one about guarding the home compound at night, the other about servants expecting the patriarch of the clan to return home from his travels. The Lord threaded the two stories together with the theme of anticipation, one against attacks of the Evil One (the thief in the night), the other expecting the Second Coming. Notice the apathetic and abusive attitudes displayed in 13:48-49 negated the watchful attitude found in 13:43. In other words, the community leader guarded against evil attacks with anticipation and charity, a watchful eye to the outside, a caring heart to those in the fold. Leaders needed both to receive their heavenly reward at the end of time.

How do you keep watch for the Lord?

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Friday in the Twenty First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 25:1-13 - World English Bible

Jesus told his followers:

1 "The Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, 'Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!' 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise answered, saying, 'What if there isn't enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' 10 While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' 12 But he answered, 'Most certainly I tell you, I don't know you.' 13 Watch therefore, for you don't know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."

Jesus told the parable of the Ten Virgins as warning: be prepared. The ten young girls waited for the call of the town crier to announce when the bridegroom would arrive. In the time of Jesus, a wedding occurred when the man and woman crossed the threshold into the compound of the bridegroom's clan. Beforehand, however, the man would go to his future father-in-law to negotiate the dowry. Custom demanded last minute haggling by the parties, so no one knew when the bridegroom would escort his new bride to her new home. When the crier called out the good news, then the party would commence; if the feasting started in the middle of the night, people would nap until then.

Jesus divided the girls into wise and foolish. The titles meant more than knowing and dull; they separated the faithful (wise) from the agnostic (foolish). The difference focused on the oil for their vessels; the wise planned ahead, the foolish did not. The oil symbolized faith fed. The wise prepared for the delay of the Lord through prayer, study and charitable action; the foolish were haphazard. The coming of the Christ would lead the faithful into the Kingdom, which people saw as an endless wedding banquet between God and his chosen.

When the bridegroom arrived with his bride and the wedding began, the family closed the doors to the clan compound for protection from bandits. The girls who delayed called out for admittance, but the bridegroom denied them. They should have come when the crier called, not at a time convenient to them.

Spiritual preparation for the Lord, then, means a day-by-day activity of fortifying faith. It cannot be left for some ideal time of life when we feel ready. The call depends upon God, not upon our timetable.

What have you done today to prepare for the coming of Christ?

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Saturday in the Twenty First Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 25:14-30 - World English Bible

Jesus told his disciples:

14 "For it is like a man, going into another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two. 18 But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money.

19 "Now after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reconciled accounts with them. 20 He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents besides them.'

21 "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

22 "He also who got the two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents. Behold, I have gained another two talents besides them.'

23 "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

24 "He also who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. 25 I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.'

26 "But his lord answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter. 27 You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. 28 Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away. 30 Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

The final discourse of Jesus in Matthew's gospel ended with three parables. The first (15:1-13) addressed spiritual preparation. The second (above) addressed the results of evangelization; how many people could the missionaries gather into the Church before the Second Coming? The third spoke to the Final Judgment (25:31-46).

Here, Jesus taught the necessity of winning souls with an unlikely scenario. A rich foreigner (Gentile) entrusted his fortune to three servants (traitorous Jews?) for "investment." Since ancient culture assumed that wealth was static, thus could not grow, and the distribution of wealth was divinely ordained, the servants could only increase the size of their master's estate at the expense of others. The eight talents listed in 25:15 had a value of $3 million at the time and could only be doubled in short order by loaning it at exorbitant rates (30-50%). Despite the power of the state to jail a delinquent debtor, such loans were risky. No wonder the third servant buried his single talent (considered a safe option by many wise men at the time). Yet, unlike his fellow servants, the conservative servant was punished for his lack of initiative; the master ordered him ejected from the household.

The message was clear. Time was short and the "harvest" was great. Every Christian had a responsibility to spread the Good News. The Lord would eject those who held back out of fear.

How have you evangelized this week?

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