We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. The letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Paul’s letters reflect his custom to go first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel as a follower of Jesus. Before his conversion, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now he faced those from the Pharisaic movement sharply confronting him..
The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same antagonism and confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Read only passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel you would think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.
In reality, a number of Pharisees became his most important followers, like Nicodemus and Paul himself. The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to him in his lifetime; Jesus was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message. But did he see them as mortal, eternal enemies? No, he didn’t.
We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written and the audience they were written for. It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.
Can we learn a lesson from readings like these? Be careful not to demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.
That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world and controversy building up between them and us. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,
When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring all of creation, not just a part of it, for God to receive. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.
God doesn’t demonize.