16 February 2014

Surpassing Righteousness

6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio Link

Paul speaks to those who are mature a wisdom. Not the wisdom of this passing age, nor the wisdom of the rulers of this age. But “God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden. . .” To hear God's wisdom and understand, the hearer must be mature. Not elderly in age but mature in spirit, one whose life with God has ripened and produced good spiritual fruit. For those of us who are not yet ready to hear God's wisdom, not yet mature enough to understand, Paul notes a way in, a way into the hidden mysteries. God reveals. Through His Holy Spirit He offers us a revelation. And what does God reveal? He reveals all that the eye has not seen; all that the ear has not heard; all that has failed to enter the human heart. He reveals to those who love Him all that He has prepared. And we call this revelation Wisdom. Not the passing-away wisdom of this age, but the Wisdom of God, the Wisdom Christ is sent to fulfill. The Law and the Prophets revealed God's Wisdom in word and deed, preaching and teaching His ways to a wayward people. Christ reveals God's Wisdom in flesh and blood, preaching and teaching the Way back to righteousness. Jesus says, “. . .unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Since our places in the kingdom of heaven depend on our righteousness, it might be prudent for us to figure out how to surpass the scribes and Pharisees in righteousness. If we were try to surpass their righteousness on their own terms, we'd likely fail. Righteousness for the scribes and Pharisees was achieved through the meticulous observance of some 600+ regulations, animal sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple, and the daily recitation – in Hebrew – of a number of lengthy prayers. How do we surpass this sort of righteousness? We don't. We can't. What righteousness we can claim comes to us as a freely offered gift from God. We accept this freely offered gift, or we do not. If we accept the gift of righteousness, God makes us right through the death and resurrection of Christ. If we do not accept the gift, then nothing we can do will make us right with God. When Jesus says that he came to fulfill the Law, he means that he came to keep the promises of the Law and to make good on our end of the deal. So, we surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees by placing ourselves among those who love God; who receive His Wisdom; and who strive to understand and live by His will. 
 
Loving God, receiving His Wisdom, and striving to understand and live by His will are each a sign of spiritual maturity. Taken together, they are signs not only of righteousness but holiness as well. Notice what Jesus is teaching the disciples in this formula: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors. . .but I say to you.” Our ancestors taught us not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to swear a false oath. That's the Law. Jesus came to fulfill the Law not to abolish it. Murder, adultery, and lying are still wrong. However, b/c Jesus has fulfilled the Law and revealed the first commandment – the Law of Love – we know why murder, adultery, and lying are all morally evil. They all violate love. In some way, each one offends the dignity of the human person, trespassing against the image and likeness of God that each one of us manifests. When we love God; receive His Wisdom, and strive to understand and live by His will, we see Him revealed in one another, and we love one another b/c He created us for love and loved us first. The spiritually mature hear and understand God's Wisdom: love is fundamental, grounding, all-defining, and absolute. Choose love and your faith will ripen and produce good spiritual fruit.

Choose love, I said. Choose. We hear this again from the Wisdom of Ben Sira, Sirach: “[God] has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” Touch water, or touch fire. Choose. One soothes, the other burns. Sirach continues: “Before [you] are life and death, good and evil, whichever [you] choose shall be given [you].” Choose and your choice will be given. That's a frightening proposition. Not so much the choices themselves, but the very idea that we must choose, and that we are responsible for the choices we make. Of course, we know that we are responsible for our material choices. We get a ticket for speeding. We gain weight when we choose to eat that second King Cake. We get docked for missing a day of work. But do we understand that our spiritual choices – the choices we make to love, to forgive, to give God thanks, or not to do any of those things – do we understand that these choices also have real consequences for which we are responsible? Sirach says, “Choose good or evil, life or death.” One soothes, the other burns. If you always choose love – God's love – your choice cannot fail, the consequences can never be dire. “Immense is the wisdom of the Lord. . .”

The Law and the Prophets revealed God's Wisdom in word and deed, preaching and teaching His ways to a wayward people. Christ reveals God's Wisdom in flesh and blood, preaching and teaching the Way back to righteousness. Christ does not simply teach his Father's wisdom. He doesn't simply act out his Father's wisdom. Christ IS his Father's wisdom – given a body, a soul, a mind, and a mission. Christ is “what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart.” And he is “what God has prepared for those who love him.” No, rather, he is “who God has prepared for those who love him.” Our choice is Christ. Not a what but a who – the person of Christ, his body and blood, freely given and freely received to bring you and me into righteousness, a surpassing righteousness. And our mission – the mission we have all accepted and vowed to complete – is to give our bodies, our souls, our hearts and minds to the enduring labor of being Christ out there. Christ fulfills the Law. Our obligations to the Law have been met. Now, having chosen Life – Life Eternal – we are responsible for maturing in God's Wisdom and seeing to it that the Good News of His mercy to sinners is given a voice, loud and clear. Therefore, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
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