17 June 2013

Let heaven find you

11th Week OT (M) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Last week, today, and the rest of this week, we hear Jesus using a familiar phrase: “You have heard it said. . .but I say to you.” Our Lord uses this phrase to set up a contrast btw the Pharisees' understanding of the Mosaic Law and how his own followers are to understand it. While the Pharisees reduce the Law to what amounts to a behavioral code, Jesus teaches us to understand the Law in terms of the First Commandment. All of the behaviors required of us and forbidden to us under the Law are first and foremost ways of loving God, self, and neighbor. The Pharisees teach: Follow all the rules perfectly and you will learn to love perfectly. Jesus teaches: No, love perfectly as God loves you and following the rules will come naturally. Why is Jesus' the superior way? Loving First is more fundamental; that is, the roots of moral behavior are deeply planted in the rich soil of love. Without love providing stability and nourishment, good behavior is just a matter of being a good actor. And as the Pharisees reveal again and again, good behavior w/o real love too often leads to self-righteousness and pride. 

And why are self-righteousness and pride dangerous? Isn't it better to be self-righteous than not at all righteous? Isn't it better to be proud of who and what we are than it is to be ashamed? The problem with self-righteousness isn't the righteousness part; it's the self part. Righteousness is all about Being Right with God. And only He can initiate, empower, and accomplish that gifted-feat. We cooperate, of course, but our role is all about reception of the gift. So, self-righteousness then is the self-satisfying attempt to do that which God alone can do—make us holy. If I am among the unrighteous, how do I lift my up to sit among the righteous? By what authority or power do I accomplish this elevation? This is the point at which pride enters. Pride tells me that I am perfectly good just as I am. Nothing wrong. Nothing needs to be fixed. Complete in my sin and perfectly holy just b/c I'm Me, I can dispense with cooperating with God's little gifts of love, hope, and faith, grab my belt and yank myself up into the sky! Why is my pride dangerous? B/c it is false. Pride gives me a view of the world and God that is untrue. Not only is pride a lie, it's an ugly lie. To combat the allure of the lie, Jesus teaches me humility—not shame—but the humility of one who understands that nothing truly belongs to me. 

If nothing truly belongs to us, and we are commanded to love as God loves us, then it follows that we best obey the Law by going well beyond the minimum behavioral requirements of the Law. Jesus says that we must forgo the vengeance allowed by law. He says that we endure humiliation by inviting more. He says that we give twice as much service as we are required to give. He says that love leads us to give when asked, to lend when someone wants to borrow. None of this makes any sense at all if self-righteousness and pride rule our hearts. Only under the Law of Love can we understand why turning the other cheek and going the extra mile bring us closer to Him. The more and better we understand that everything created—including us—is a gift, the more and better we love. And the easier it is to grow in holiness. Why? We cannot cling to what passes away. We cannot hoard as our own that which never belonged to us. We cannot demand that a gift be given. Nor can we lay claim to the righteousness that is God's alone to bestow. You have heard it said that following the rules will get you into heaven. But our Lord says to you, to all of us, attach yourselves to nothing made, love generously, and let heaven find you.

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent - especially last half. Thank you!