No one could disagree with the ideal of loving God and loving one’s neighbour. In preaching this can be a difficulty, in that no one who joins in the Sunday Eucharist would deny this principle. But it’s possible to politely listen and agree, without feeling drawn to any practical conclusion for living. The homilist might offer some examples of how we might better show love of neighbour, but people are not so eager to hear a harangue about sins of omission. Since generic ideals could fail to effectively move people’s conscience, one might focus instead on the second reading.
It is clear that Paul mixed closely with the communities whose lives he shared and the authority of his word seems to have sprung from the quality of his life. His attitudes and work-habits were in tune with the message that he delivered. His commitment to the task was evidenced by the troubles he had to bear, while spreading the good news. There was an intrinsic link between what he said and how he lived. The word spoken gave meaning to the life lived and the quality of the life guaranteed the sincerity of the word. The people of Salonika accepted his message and found that it had a power to change their own outlook on life. Paul names their experience “joy of the Holy Spirit.” They touched the living Spirit of God in the midst of their own lives.