“Through back Thursday” (tbt) has become a popular element of life on Facebook. People post pictures of themselves from years earlier, and it serves as a reminder of just how far we have grown. What about a tbt for our faith? Do you ever take a moment to look back on your faith life to see if you have made progress? And what types of things would indicate that we have made progress?
In today’s first reading, the apostle Paul shows some signs of the growth he has seen in the Thessalonians. He can see the flourishing of their faith by the way in which they grow in love for one another. It seems that authentic love is the result of active faith. And in many instances, when we read the scriptures, we see that it is love that helps the world to see Christians for who they are, and by contrast, it is when Christians do not love others that Christianity is open to great criticism.
And so to grow in faith we must grow in love. The two influence each other. There can be barriers to authentic loving. Authentically loving another person does not mean giving them everything that want. It means there are times when a challenge must be issued. Sometimes authentic love means saying “no” to another. At the same time, authentic love can also mean that we must sacrifice for another. We cannot always love another unless we can see their needs and respond to them.
The inability to see the needs of others is what Jesus is getting at in the gospel. If we are not careful, we too can be chastised by Jesus for “locking the kingdom of God.” And just what does that mean? Looking at the examples Jesus provides, it seems that one way the kingdom of God can be locked is when the external components of our religion become more important than Jesus himself. Gold, gifts, and expensive elements of a church can raise our minds to God, but it can also, if we are not careful, overshadow so much that we fail to recognize the presence of God.