31 May 2008

I never knew you...

9th Sunday OT: Deut 11.18, 26-28; Rom 3.21-25, 28; Matthew 7.21-27
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation (Vigil Mass)

Jesus says to all those who on the last day list for him all of their mighty deeds, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” Terrifying. Jesus names as “evildoers” all of those who worked mighty deeds in his name but failed to bind in their hearts and minds and on their hands and heads the words of his Father: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Therefore, doers of deeds done in his name but not in accord with the will of the Father are evildoers, those whom the Son never knew. Imagine for a moment facing Christ on the last day and hearing him say to you, “I never knew you.” How do we insure then that Christ will know us on the last day?

Moses, using the threat and promise of a curse and a blessing, admonishes his people, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.” With your eyes wide open and your ears finely tuned, what do you see and hear? Moses, knowing the hard hearts and harder heads of his people, exhorts us to make our own the wisdom of our God, placing His words at the very center of our being, making God’s words not only a sign of our faith and obedience but also wrapping them around each of our hands and letting them rest on your foreheads as bonds of blessing so that everything we do and think we do and think for His glory and acclaim. It is not enough merely to think on God’s glory nor is it enough to do good works. Everything we are—heart, soul, hands, and head—must be saturated through with the manifold wisdom of God, so that our obedience—our seeing and hearing and doing—will be directed toward a single end: proclaiming to every opened eye and every finely tuned ear the boundless and eternal glory of God! We believe in God and so we work for God. And we work for Him because we believe in Him.

Hear again what Moses says we do when we fail in this essential task: “…a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today, to follow other gods, whom you have not known.” When we fail to enthrone the Word of God in our hearts and souls and on your hands and heads, we chase after other gods, gods we do not know, gods that cannot know us. Moses is admonishing us to be obedient to the Lord, the One Whom we know! The God we know! And the God who knows us. Alien gods are not only foreign to our covenant with God but they are alien to our knowing—strange, unfamiliar—and because they are unknowable, they cannot help us, save us.

Let’s be clear: Moses is not exhorting us to pick a team or a party and remain always loyal. He is exhorting us to surrender to reality, to give ourselves wholly to the only God Who Is. To fail in this is to surrender to the imaginary, the fantasy of other gods. And this in itself is a curse. Fortunately for us, our God has made us to desire Him, created us to seek Him out and to be seduced by His love for us. And He has made it possible for us to find Him and to be reconciled to Him. Paul writes to the Romans: “[All] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…” In other words, because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross we are “set right” with God, made just by Christ, adopted into God’s family so that we might be saved. No work of ours accomplishes this; there is no number of good works that we might do in order to earn the initial gift of our potential salvation. Paul continues: “…we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” When we exercise the gift of trusting in God and in His works, we are prepared then to do what we must in order to be saved. And so, Moses admonishes us to bind our hearts, our souls, our hands and heads with the commandments of God so that we might find in Him enduring blessing and eternal life.

Let’s hear that again just to be sure: our faith—itself a gift from God—makes it possible for us to cooperate with God’s commandments so that we give ourselves, sacrifice ourselves to Him freely, unfettered by sin.

Jesus goes on to teach us, “Everyone who listens [obeys] to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” No rain or wind or quake will shake the foundations of house constructed on the rock of the God’s will. No pain or turmoil or doubt can threaten the integrity of a life built on hearing and doing the will of the Father in heaven. However, a house built on sand, a life constructed on the vagaries of human wisdom, human intelligence, human will will collapse and be completely ruined. It is not enough that we cry out “Lord, Lord!” It is not enough to manage an occasional good deed. It is not enough that we live and move through this gifted life as lukewarm but inactive believers, tepid but untrusting doers. The work we do in His name is good because He is Goodness. And we trust in His goodness because He made us to believe.

So, we go back to Moses, our father in faith and listen again, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.” Wrap yourself in the saving word and works of Christ so that everything you imagine, everything you do, so that everything you are is first and foremost an image, a deed, a being of the One Who made you to love Him. The psalmist sings, “In you, O Lord, I take refuge…in your justice rescue me…Be my rock of refuge…You are my rock and my fortress…Let your face shine upon your servant…Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the Lord!”

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