Holding Fast to the Weightier Things of the Law, 21st Tuesday (II), August 26, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of our Lady of Czestochowa
August 26, 2014
2 Thes 2:1-3.14-17, Ps 96, Mt 23:23-26

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • The readings today address certain religious confusions of the time and how God instead wants us to behave.
  • In the first reading, we see that the Christians in Thessalonika were worried about the end of the world happening imminently, something that left them  paralyzed and petrified. They weren’t working. Some didn’t seem to be eating. They basically thought what was the point if today was going to be the last day of their life. They were basing their hysteria on hype, “shaken out of [their] minds suddenly, … alarmed by a ‘spirit’ or by an oral statement or by a letter allegedly from [Paul] to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.” St. Paul stressed, “Let no one deceive you in any way.” Still today many are caught up in rumors, they’re able to be misled by Dan Brown, or by the secular media, or by rumors among neighbors or fellow parishioners. St. Paul wanted them, instead, to be basing their lives solidly on the truth that had been revealed to them. “Stand firm, brothers and sisters, and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” This is always the antidote, to stand firm on the rock of God’s word in revelation and in the oral traditions passed down in the Church, both of which constitute what we call the “deposit of faith.” The better we know that revelation, the better we’ll be able to hold fast to it and not be swayed by the deceptions of the age. In the particular question at hand, Jesus told us that we know not the day or the hour, that the end of the world may happen today but we will never know that it will happen today or thousands of years from now; anyone claiming to know is deceived and is deceiving others. What we do know Jesus also revealed: that we’re called to be vigilant in striving to live every day as if it is our last, not in dread, but in behaving in a way that will lead us to eternity: praying, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, doing acts of charity, receiving the sacraments. At the end of the passage, St. Paul prayed that God would “encourage [their] hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word,” the good deeds and words that we should be doing every day, so that we’ll be doing them on the day that will turn out to be our last or the world’s last.
  • In the Gospel, Jesus was fighting a different type of confusion and deception, one given by hypocritical lifestyle of the Scribes and Pharisees. Today we heard the fourth and the fifth of the seven woes, the ferocious denunciations, Jesus makes of the behavior of the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Today Jesus called them actors (the literal translation of hypocrites) for neglecting the weightier things of the law in an obsession for the tiniest things. He says that they’re neurotic about paying tithes on garden herbs (mint, dill and cummin) that will always be in very short supply, obsessing about whether they owe perhaps two or three tiny leaves from a garden plant to the Temple, while totally overlooking justice, mercy and fidelity. There are so many examples of their injustice, mercilessness and infidelity: injustice, for example, in their refusing to care for their elderly relatives by saying all they had was given to God; mercilessness, in wanting to stone the adulterous woman or in resenting the fact that Jesus talked with sinners and even ate with them; infidelity shown in their swearing oaths seemingly calling on God as the guarantor of their truthfulness while all the while intending to deceive. Jesus says that they “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.” Both gnats and camels were unclean and would make any food they touched unclean. The Jews used to use filters over their wine to make sure no microscopic gnats were in it rendering it unfit to drink, but at the same time as doing that, Jesus was saying, they were eating huge camels. While obsessing about eliminating venial sins and imperfections, they were committing mortal sins, cleansing the “outside of the cup and dish” while inside being “full of plunder and self-indulgence.” We see how right Jesus was insofar as these people with a reputation for great holiness were those who conspired to have Jesus, an innocent man, framed by false testimony and publicly murdered by the same foreign authorities they thought had no legitimacy. Jesus was calling them out, calling them to conversion, and calling them to focus on the most important things, on cleansing their insides, on doing the weightier more important aspects of the law.
  • Jesus continues to call each of us to do the same. Sometimes we can be consumed about little things and miss the biggest. We can say a whole bunch of vocal prayers but mercilessly hold a grudge against a family member. We can book Masses for all types of holy intentions but then watch lustful movies. We can dress with the finest clothes on Sunday but on the inside be a cesspool of judgements against our neighbor rather than love for our neighbor. If we’re not going to be actors like the Pharisees, if we’re not boing to be “blind guides,” we need humbly to receive Jesus’ help in the Sacrament of Confession to cleanse our insides and then focus on living in and extending God’s justice, mercy and fidelity.
  • The one who teaches us how to live these truths best is our Lady. Today we honor her as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the one who personifies the tradition in which St. Paul calls us to stand firm: she is the one who, as Pope Benedict was once, received the Word within, transmuted it with her flesh and was transmuted by it, and then she gave that Word to others. She treasured God’s word within and held it fast. She was firm in “every good deed and word.” She was passionate about justice, giving God and others what they were due, and praising God for lifting up the lowly against the unjust mighty rulers. She was the Mother of Mercy, bringing to her Son the needs of others before they were even aware they had a problem. She was the model of faith, being praised by her Son and by her cousin for her great faith in believing all that the Lord had revealed to her would be fulfilled. She who is the exact opposite of a “blind guide” wants to mother us in the fulfillment of the law of love enfleshed and announced by her Son.
  • Over the course of the last 600 years, under the famous image enshrined in the Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, she has guided the Polish people to hold fast to the oral and written traditions of the faith, to seek to be just and moral, to receive God’s mercy and share it, and to be faithful to God and others. Devotion to her is one of the reasons why the Polish people have remained faithful despite so many attacks, from the Swedes, from the Germans, from the Russians, from the Nazis. She wants to help us remain faithful, too. We were honored to welcome here last December 4 the traveling image of Our Lady of Czestochowa as part of the Ocean to Ocean campaign of Human Life International in defense of life.
  • This iconic image is not so much about Mary, but about Jesus. We notice that her right hand is pointing to her Son. That’s how Mary seeks to guide us, because Jesus is the incarnation of justice, mercy and faithfulness. And now she points us to her Son in the Eucharist. Back in 2002, I had the privilege three straight days to celebrate Mass before the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland, wearing the vestments John Paul II himself had worn when he celebrated Mass there in 1979. The altar was right in front of the image and I couldn’t help but ponder while I was celebrating Mass that Our Lady was right behind me, that she had my back, that she was pointing me to her Son and seeking through me to give the blessed Fruit of her womb to the world. Today we rejoice that Our Lady has all of our back and she seeks to help us live today holding fast to the weightier things of the law and living as we ought to live every day so that we might one day have the chance to rejoice with her and all the saints forever in God’s eternal kingdom of justice, mercy and fidelity.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 THES 2:1-3A, 14-17

We ask you, brothers and sisters,
with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our assembling with him,
not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly,
or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us
to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.
Let no one deceive you in any way.To this end he has also called you through our Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm
and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught,
either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts and strengthen them
in every good deed and word.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 96:10, 11-12, 13

R. (13b) The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.

Gospel
MT 23:23-26

Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”