01 June 2008

Made by God to believe...

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 (Sunday Mass)

Moses says it first, and I say it now: “I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse.” We are blessed in our obedience to God’s wisdom. And cursed in our folly when we disobey. We are blessed when we see and hear and do the will of the Father. And we are cursed when stand blind, deaf, and lazy in the presence of such wisdom. Fortunately for us, our father in faith, Moses, gives us clear instruction on how to receive God’s blessing everyday, every moment. He teaches us, “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. I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: a blessing for obeying the commandments of the Lord…a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord.” If you place God’s wisdom in your heart and in your soul, then your very being is made wise; that is, merely existing is an act of wisdom, a proclamation of God’s glory to the world. If you bind your hands and your mind with God’s wisdom, then every act, every job, every task and every thought, your very imagination is a sign of God’s presence, a pendant, a flag marking you as His. This is what Jesus teaches us in Matthew’s gospel this morning: it is not enough to think kindly of the Lord; it is not enough to do kind deeds in his name. We must obey: listen and act, one move—hearing the Word/doing the Word, listening to God’s wisdom/doing God’s wisdom. If you will to exist wisely in God, then you must place His wisdom in your heart, your mind and you must bind your hands and bind your mind with His commandments. How do we do that?

Paul writes to the Romans, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law [the commandments], though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Let me break that down a bit: in the older covenant, God’s righteousness—His rightness: goodness, truth, beauty—were made known to humans primarily through the Law. Obey the Law and God is revealed to you. What Paul is saying here is that the advent, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ now manifests God’s righteousness apart from the Law. He does not say “instead of the Law,” but rather “apart from the Law,” meaning that we have access to the fullness to God’s Self-revelation through Christ. Remember: Christ came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, to make the Law complete, perfected. The Law and the prophets are witnesses to the Law—they are testimonies to His commandments but Christ is God Himself: the Real Deal Himself! So, Paul teaches us that we ourselves come to the righteousness of God Himself when we believe on Christ.

Again, how do we come to believe? Believing is a human act. But believing is not merely human. By the gift of the Father we are made to desire Him, made to want Him, created in His likeness and image to be seduced by His love for us! In other words, we are capable of belief in Christ precisely because God engineered us—genetically programmed us, if you will—to seek Him out. Even when we are misguided, lost, faithless, sinful, we yearn for His perfection. Paul writes, “[All] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…” We are made just because Christ freely gave his life for us. Fully God, fully Man, Jesus bridged the gap between the human and the divine, and in dying sacrificially, made it possible for us to become God with God through God alone. We believe because it is our deepest need, our most profound urge. Greater than hunger, thirst, the drive to reproduce, greater even than the will to live, the imperative for God’s perfection comes first. The life you live daily, hourly is your answer to this primitive call.

How do you answer? Jesus teaches those who will see and hear: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Listens to these words/acts on them. Listen and act. To those who will not to listen, those who will not to act, Jesus will say on the last day, “I never knew you. Depart from me, evildoer.” You will say, “But Lord, Lord, did I not do mighty deeds in your name?” He will answer, “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.” Only the one who obeys, the one who listens and acts. To the ones who have placed God’s commandments in their hearts and souls and bound their hands and minds with His wisdom, our Lord will say on the last day, “I have always known you. Come to me, brothers and sisters.”

Always the poet, Jesus gives us a clear image of what it means to live and move and exist in his Father’s wisdom. A house built on rock is unmoved by natural disaster. A house built on sand is swept away. No flood 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 alone, human intelligence alone, human will alone 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 one more time, “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 and in the One Who made you to love Him. None of the other gods—not Stomach, Money, Pride, not Rebellion, Lust, or Death—none of the other gods know you nor can they know you nor can they perfect you nor can they save you. You are, we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…through faith, by his blood.”

Can there be anything simpler, less complicated, easier and more righteous than being perfectly the creature you were made to be, than doing perfectly what you yearn most to do?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:04 PM

    I live in the South, where Catholics are a minority, and where most everyone believes that faith alone 'saves.' This is a great passage that may make one question that idea.