Alleluia: Blessings or Woe

Memorial of The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 22, 2022

Today’s Readings:

Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we jump into several weeks of readings from:

  • Paul’s letters – a little of Thessalonians and a lot of Corinthians
  • a little of Matthew’s Gospel and a lot of Luke’s

Still centering on our daily Alleluia Verse, as we have been since after Eastertide, we open our prayer to the experience of these early communities as they deepened in their Christian story.

Thessoloniki, Greece

Thessalonika was one of the first cities where Paul worked to form a Christian community. That church suffered persecution but showed “endurance and faith”. Paul obviously has great affection for these steadfast believers, an affection which reflects God’s own love for them.

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters,
as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.

Matthew’s Gospel shows us Jesus in an opposite situation from Paul. Jesus is speaking out to a faithless group – Pharisees and scribes who pervert religion with meaningless superficialities which make it harder for people to reach God. 

Animation character designs by Cedric Hohnstadt of the Pharisees for the video series “What’s In The Bible?”

Rather than gratitude and blessing, Jesus preaches woe to those who so subvert the faith journey of their community.

Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?

“religious” distortions vs. sincere faith

One would think it should be easy to tell the difference between true faith and manipulative “religion“. But apparently, it’s not so easy. In every age, including our own, we see people caught up in the distortions of religion which disrespect human rights and freedom.

When we see religion used as a pretext for violence, exclusion, political advancement or economic domination, those “woes” should start ringing in our head.

One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by the one who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by the one who is seated on it.

This advice from Jesus could be a little confusing, but in essence it calls us to be sincere and direct in our approach to God and to our sisters and brothers. It is a teaching offered more clearly in an earlier Matthean passage, the Sermon on the Mount:

But I tell you do not swear at all, either by heaven since that is God’s throne, or by earth, since that is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean ‘yes’, ‘No’ if you mean ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.

Matthew 5:34-37

Poetry: Poetics of Faith – Denise Levertov 

‘Straight to the point’
           can ricochet,
Circumlocution, analogy,
           parable’s ambiguities, provide
                      context, stepping-stones.
Most of the time. And then
the lightning power
           amidst these indirections,
                      of plain
unheralded miracle!
           For example,
                      as if forgetting
to prepare them, He simply
           walks on water
                      towards them, casually –
and impetuous Peter, empowered,
           jumps from the boat and rushes
                      On wave-tip to meet Him –
a few steps, anyway –
           (till it occurs to him,
                      ‘I can’t, this is preposterous’
and Jesus has to grab him,
           tumble his weight
                      back over the gunwale).
Sustaining those light and swift
           steps was more than Peter
                      could manage. Still,
years later,
           his toes and insteps, just before sleep,
                      would remember their passage.

Music: Roberto Cacciapaglia – Angel Falls

just some lovely instrumental music to accompany your thoughts as you pray.

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