First Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our reception among you was not without effect. Rather, after we had suffered and been insolently treated, as you know, in Philippi, we drew courage through our God to speak to you the Gospel of God with much struggle. Our exhortation was not from delusion or impure motives, nor did it work through deception. But as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts. Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed–God is witness– nor did we seek praise from men, either from you or from others, although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ. Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 139:1-3, 4-6
You have searched me and you know me, Lord. O LORD, you have probed me and you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know the whole of it. Behind me and before, you hem me in and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain.
Gospel: Matthew 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.”
I find it unendingly intriguing, this juxtaposition of Saint Paul talking about his love for the Thessalonians being like the love of a nursing mother for her child, and Christ’s jarringly harsh critique of the Pharisees. (Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and yet swallow the camel!)
Over and over in the Gospels we see Christ unconditionally loving those outside the circles of leadership and power.
He admonished gently, He spoke kindly. He invited, He welcomed.
But when He encountered those who kept the Law the most perfectly, who did things like rigorously tithing their spices, He spoke differently.
I know and must believe that He loved the Pharisees beyond all telling: that, because He loved them perfectly, because He knew them the way David spoke prophetically about God’s knowledge of his heart in the Psalms, the Lord was willing to lovingly and brashly insist that they suffer the loss of their pride, their regimented obedience, their attention to the minutiae of the law (like the tithing of spices He mentions) in order to see their need—not for the minutiae of the law, which scrubbed their skins shiny and left their hearts mired in the ills of sin and selfishness, but for the ocean of His mercy.
He gave the Pharisees (and all of us who follow Him) the gift of loving without reservation or pretense: and in that love, He willingly startled and shocked the most legalistic of us into being faced with a very distinct choice; receive the love of God and begin to display it, boasting only in your weakness, or be doomed to checking items off an endless list, weighing and dividing spices until all of life’s opportunities for love are gone.
When the law began to suffocate the very things it pointed towards — judgment, mercy, and fidelity, and above all, Love—God entered time, and with human flesh knit into His own soul He grabbed our faces and He said “Enough, dearly beloved.” He loves perfectly and passionately, asking of those who follow him not a tithe of our spices but the entirety of our hearts.
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Quietly and mercifully examine your conscience for legalism. Recognize that legalism is a rejection of God’s mercy and grace, and ask His help in growing brave enough to move beyond it.
Audrey Assad is a wife, mother and musician. You can find out more about her here.