04 March 2023

Surpassing righteousness

1st Week of Lent (S)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Does your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes? Yesterday, Jesus said that it must. Note that he's not saying that the Pharisees and scribes are unrighteous. They aren't. They are as exactly as righteous as the Law requires. And no more. They know where the lines are, and they do not cross them. These lines – the rules, the regulations – are both a comfort and a temptation. When in doubt, what's the rule? Follow it. But there's also always the sneaking suspicion that the line is merely arbitrary or maybe even a cruel joke. This tension in the rules tends to create a doubled mind. On the one hand, I obey the rule and remain righteous. On the other, I don't really think the rule is just or important or I don't understand its purpose; so while obeying it, I mock it. Over time, my double mind turns to hypocrisy and my righteousness is tainted. Here's where Jesus comes in and says that our righteousness must surpass that of the obsessive rule-followers. How do we do that? We place all of the rules inside the Greatest Commandment and figure out how the lesser rules express the greatest. Love God, self, and neighbors is the whole of the Law. The whole of the Law is not another Law. The whole of the Law is a divine command rooted in the nature of God Himself. Since we live, move, and have our being in God, divine love itself, then all of our thoughts, words, and deeds must accurately reflect who and what we are as creatures who participate in divine love. All created things – me, you, our friends, our enemies, everything and everyone – live in divine love. Jesus says, “[God] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Therefore, our righteousness, our rightness with the Father, is a matter of being divine love with one another regardless of our relative social, economic, political, or religious positions. In fact, our righteousness is called surpassing if we are loving to those who are counted “less than” by the world. All of this loving as the Father loves and being perfect as the Father is perfect is made possible by His gift of the Son on the cross. When we receive His gift, we are no longer pagans but pilgrims on the Way. And walking the Way is how we become Christ right where we are. The world is polluted with Pharisees and scribes. What we need is more Christs made perfect in Christ. 

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