Today’s Scripture Readings
Today’s readings demonstrate that for all the change that happens in the world the basics of human life stay the same. In this case, the challenge of holding on to what we believe and acting accordingly. I think it is easy for us to conclude that our world with its instant communication and awareness of the variety of cultures and beliefs that surround us is a more challenging environment for faith than in the past. Both Thessalonians and Matthew tell us the opposite.
Paul’s letter shows that even when communication was highly limited people were still challenged by those who held a different view. Others were telling Paul’s followers a different version of the Christian story. They were writing letters too and making speeches. Who is to be believed?
Matthew is telling the story about another side of this issue. Can we authentically live out what we believe? Clearly for Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees have missed the point of their Jewish law and heritage. They have found it convenient to expect compliance from others while absolving their own behavior. They are using the Jewish law to exclude and judge others while establishing themselves as preferred and right thinking. How easily we can fool and protect ourselves at the expense of other people.
Once again, none of this is new, it recurs because we are each given the freedom to become in our own time and in our own circumstances. Such a terrifyingly wonderful gift. The result is an intertwined mix of having to learn it all for ourselves yet within a web of relationships that teach, support and challenge who we are. So Paul and Matthew saw their communities facing the same human issues we face. The question is which of today’s narratives will guide us? What ideas will we adopt as our own? What will we choose in each new moment that shapes who we become?
Paul and Matthew are saying we are not alone. We have guides should we choose to listen. We can learn to see what is loving, honest and life giving in ourselves and others. There is joy to be had in this life, no matter our material circumstances, by living openly, caring for others and not being afraid of a new tomorrow. As Paul says, it means we should not “be shaken out of your minds suddenly.” Nor can we become hypocrites, as Matthew says, who “cleanse the outside of the cup” while “inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.”
Today’s psalm offers the solution, the story we can believe, the path we can follow, “let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice … for he comes, for he comes to rule the earth … with justice.” “He has made the world firm, not to be moved.” We live in a world that can be trusted because it is of God’s making. It is not an uncertain, unreliable place because God stands behind it as creator and also with it as evidenced decisively by the life of Jesus of Nazareth. God has given life and God shares in and supports our lives for the glory and joy of all. Don’t “be shaken out of your minds” by any other message.