Today’s Epistle reading is from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 2:4-15.
For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent – not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
In today’s Epistle reading, we hear Paul plead with the Corinthian community to restore a former sinner who has now repented. About this, St. John Chrysostom writes:
Paul asks the Corinthians, not only to lift the censure, but also to restore the man to his former status, for to punish a man without healing him means nothing. Note too how Paul keeps the man himself humble, so that he will not become worse as a result of having been forgiven. For although he had both confessed and repented, Paul makes it clear that he obtained forgiveness not so much by his repentance as by God’s free gift.
Paul needs to see that the Corinthians are as obedient in restoring the sinner as they had been in punishing him. For the punishment might have proceeded in part from envy and malice, but if they now proceed to restore him in love, that will show their obedience is pure. This is the test of true disciples: if they obey not only when ordered to do something but on their own as well.
Today’s Gospel reading is from St. Matthew 23:13-22.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.”
In listing all of the charges against them, Jesus called the scribes and the Pharisees, hypocrites. St. Hilary of Poitiers writes:
These are poisoners of truth. They are reluctant to undertake the salvation of others. They bolt shut the kingdom of heaven. In their ambition they “devour widows’ houses and for pretense make long prayers.” By this acquaintance with heaven (achieved with those long prayers), they expect they will persevere in the merits of grace quietly, just as a rich person expects to receive treasure stored up for him. However, they will receive ample judgment and punishment for their particular sins. They will be called to account for their strange and ignorant practices.
By receiving repentant sinners in the midst of our community, even one we had called brother or sister, we emulate the mercy and the forgiveness given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross. “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”