21st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord points out the irony that the Pharisees on the outside try to appear squeaky clean, but on the inside are hypocritical and evil. The Jews whitewashed tombs because if a Jew came near one or trod on one, he would be ritually defiled, even if he was unaware of it. In using this image Our Lord is warning his listeners that the whitewash the Pharisees have placed on themselves should put them on their guard as well if they don’t want to inadvertently defile themselves.

Hypocrisy even today is one of the greatest sins a person can commit, even for people who have no concept of sin–no one likes a hypocrite. People can try to present themselves as something more or something better than they are, and they seek legitimacy in any way possible. How many people through the Internet either try or imagine themselves to be what they’re not? Jesus reminds us today that God knows our hearts. If God knows us as we truly are, there’s no point in deluding ourselves into thinking that we can live a double life, to be one thing on the inside and another on the outside.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help be who we are. When we stop trying to be what we’re not he can help us to explore the wealth of who we truly are.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 2:9–13; Psalm 139:7–12b; Matthew 23:27–32.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord puts us on guard against the danger of legalism, where laws are made for the sake of making laws, bureaucracy is the order of the day, and the purpose of the law doesn’t go much beyond bean counting in order to maintain an air of respectability. Our Lord doesn’t condemn laws; rather, he condemns losing sight of the purpose of those laws.

As he teaches us today, law’s purpose is judgment: to ensure that parties in conflict each receive what justice says is their due. Its purpose is mercy: to be fair to the party in the wrong, but to try and help him or her to become a good citizen again, not just fill prisons or government coffers. Finally, its purpose is fidelity: fostering solid bonds of solidarity between members of society at all levels: marriages, families, corporations, etc.–when someone breaks the law they should realize that they’ve failed in something expected of them to ensure the common good. Taxes on spices may be useful, but they’re not at the heart of the law.

We also need to examine laws to see whether they ensure just judgments, leave room for mercy, and foster fidelity. Let’s pray for our legislators that they have these principles in mind when drafting laws, and let’s also ask Our Lord to help us not sacrifice the important things for a hollow legal compliance in empty things.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8; Psalm 139:1–6; Matthew 23:23–26.

St. Bartholomew the Apostle

In today’s Gospel Nathanael didn’t have a high impression of anyone who came from Nazareth. He was sincere and didn’t mince words. When Philip invited him to come and see, he had the faith to see for himself whether Our Lord was the Messiah. Nathanael did not interpret Jesus’ evaluation of him as flattery; he was surprised to find that Jesus seemed to know him, not just by surface details like a Sherlock Holmes, but how he was from the inside. Our Lord wasn’t ribbing him either for the comment he’d made about Nazareth. His words struck a chord in Nathanael, and Nathanael knew something new was in store.

When Our Lord reveals that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree it seems Nathanael receives a sign of something for which he was searching. What was he doing under the fig tree? Was he praying about what God wanted him to do in his life? Was he asking for some sort of sign? Whatever it was, Nathanael found what he was looking for in Jesus and professed his faith in him as the Messiah. Our Lord responded by promising him that even greater revelations were in store for him.

Today’s Gospel teaches us what Our Lord has in store for us, if we have faith in him. He wants to resolve those doubts and questions in our hearts. He wants show us that he knows more about us than we know about ourselves. He wants to begin a journey of greater and greater revelations through following him. Let’s ask for that faith.

Readings: Revelation 21:9b–14; Psalm 145:10–13, 17–18; John 1:45–51.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination, and the aftermath, of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. Jesus has presented his teaching on the Eucharist, and the disciples are struggling with believing in it because they don’t understand it. As a result, many cease to be disciples of Jesus and return to their former way of life. Our Lord even poses the question to the Twelve, and Peter’s response holds a lesson we should all consider in our own life of faith: belief is supported by grace, and it is through belief that we understand some of the deepest mysteries of God. If we try to start with reasons, as we’ve seen over the last few Sundays, some truths of God will remain out of reach for us and we’ll fall back on the certainties we know, as many of the disciples did in today’s Gospel.

We shouldn’t be shy about asking Our Lord to help us in our unbelief. As Peter describes it in his response to Our Lord, believing leads to conviction. We can live a life of faith without understanding it completely and, somehow, it all fits together. The Twelve, with the exception of Judas in this moment, are building on an experience of God and his mystery that they’ve had ever since they started following Jesus, which, in turn, was built on their understanding of God before Jesus’ coming that had been passed down throughout salvation history.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us in whatever we’re having hard time believing.

Readings: Joshua 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b; Psalm 34:2–3, 16–21; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69.

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord makes an admonition to the disciples that for us has become a basic rule of thumb: practice what you preach. All believers are brothers because they all share one Father in Heaven, and they are all disciples because they follow the teachings of one Master, Christ. Through baptism we’ve all received an equal dignity in the eyes of God, and when any member of the Church forgets that, other members of the Church suffer through their bad example.

At the same time, Our Lord does not deny that the scribes and Pharisees whom he is criticizing actually have an authority that comes from Moses that is to be respected. Today there are some who are tempted to discard the preaching because certain preachers do not practice it. That’s not what Jesus teaches us. It’s sad when the preacher gets in the way of the message by putting himself first, but if he is preaching what has been handed down to us from Christ through the apostles and their successors, it is still a teaching that is necessary for us.

The core lesson today to bishops, priests, and deacons is to not let themselves get in the way of communicating the message: it’s not about ego, titles, or honors, but, rather, about communicating the message Our Lord has entrusted to the Church’s pastors through the centuries. It’s a lesson to every believer as well: through our bad example we can hinder the spread of the Gospel. Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us be good brothers and disciples who share his message with those who need it without ego trips, so that they welcome the message and don’t get hung up on the messenger.

Readings: Ruth 2:1–3, 8–11, 4:13–17; Psalm 128:1b–5; Matthew 23:1–12.