Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Many, many years ago, a good decade before I entered the Church, I traveled to Mobile, AL with two college friends to celebrate Madri Gras. Our first night out took us into the street revelry of the Central Business District. Mingled in with the drunks, the streakers, the homeless, and lots of broke college kids were small groups of Protestants handing out pamphlets. Without much luck these folks tried to persuade the party people of Mobile's Madri Gras to abandon their iniquity and repent. One particularly scary looking fellow had drawn a crowd with his fire and brimstone preaching. He stood on a milk crate and waved a hand-written placard that read, “You Had Better Get RIGHT With Jesus!” My friends and I—all raised Baptist—chuckled at this knucklehead b/c we had long ago given up such fundamentalist nonsense. But the preacher's warning became a catchphrase for us for the next year or so. Anytime one of us did something wrong, we'd shout in our best Baptist preacher's voice, “You'd better get RIGHT with Jesus!” Jesus himself tells us, “getting right” with him surpasses “getting it right” in the Law.
All of the gospel readings this week have provided us with the chance to examine the relationship btw the Old and New Covenants. From Day One, the Church has taught that the New Covenant in Christ fulfills all of the promises made by the Father in the Old Covenant. The Mosaic Law is fulfilled in the Law of Charity. The prophecies are fulfilled by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. But what does this mean for us? What is the fundamental difference btw the Old and New Covenants, the difference that brings us to righteousness? In his 1993 encyclical, Veritas splendor, John Paul II, writes, “. . .it is through faith in Christ that we have been made righteous: the 'righteousness' which the Law demands, but is unable to give, is found by every believer to be revealed and granted by the Lord Jesus”(23). The Old Covenant revealed righteousness, made the need for a right relationship with God known, but it could not establish that right relationship. Where laws, animal sacrifices, and purity codes failed to make us right with God, Christ Jesus not only succeeded in making righteousness possible, he actually makes us righteous by our faith in him. Christ achieves in us all that he makes possible for us.
To his disciples, Jesus issues this dire warning: “. . .unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” The righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees is based on the Old Covenant; it is revealed but not made. Our righteousness must go deeper than just doing the good works that might create a relationship btw the Divine Lawgiver and a Law Abiding Believer. Our rightness with God must surpass the mere possibilities of the Law and be established by faith in the One who fulfills the Law. In other words, trying to get right with God under the Law was a risky gamble—might work, might not. Getting right with God through Christ is a guaranteed win, every single time, a win. Why? Because in Christ, every promise of the Law and the prophets has been made good. Nothing has been left to chance. “Getting right with Jesus” surpasses “getting right with the Law” b/c Jesus has already fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law for us! Therefore, invest the wealth of your faith, your invaluable trust in Christ Jesus. In him is found and established for us the righteousness that frees us from death forever.___________________
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