Sirach 15:17
1 Corinthians 2:6-7
Matthew 5:19-20
OT: Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him.
NT: Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory…
GSPL: … whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Life, death. Wisdom of God, foolishness of this world. Obey, disobey. Righteousness, wickedness.
All of these are laid out for us in the readings this weekend. I think all of them are issuing a similar call. Furthermore, I think Jesus’ warning at the close of my brief quote is one of the most important parts of this weekend’s readings.
It is necessary, above every other part of our lives, to strive for holiness. That will look different in each of our lives. St. Francis De Sales gave numerous examples of this difference. To paraphrase him, a dad’s prayer life should not be expected to be exactly the same as a priest’s prayer life, even though they are both called father. But the call to holiness is exactly the same. How that holiness is going to work out depends on our circumstances in life.
But let’s bring this back to Jesus’ comment about needing to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. Let me turn this just a little bit. Another way to look at this would be to say that we are not supposed to compare ourselves to someone else’s righteousness. We should not be holding others up as examples of holiness, except when they are proven to be good witnesses to Christ. The ones I’m referring to are the canonized saints.
But even then, our reference ultimately has to be to Jesus himself. Sometimes, I find myself comparing myself to other people around me. That is terribly inadequate and unfair. The only one I should be comparing myself to is Jesus. And I’m convinced the same is true for all of you. The only righteous ones are those who are in heaven. And the best examples, by far, are Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
I do not think that anyone who has faith can challenge this: the call to holiness is equal to life itself (repeat). God has offered us the wisdom we need to overcome the worldly ways that lead us away from holiness. We are less than two weeks away from the start of Lent, a season that draws us to think not only of our sins, but our call to holiness.
God has given us the wisdom to see through the junk that this world presents as good. We know what is good. It is written on our hearts, even before we turn to faith. We know how terrible it is to be used. So to use someone else, to take advantage of someone else, somehow never fits with our faith. This is a simple summary of the list that Jesus presented in the full reading we have today in the gospel.
By the way, this gospel section is taken from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus gave us the Beatitudes. This is not a coincidence! He is calling us out of the world and into holiness. So as we prepare ourselves for the start of Lent in less than two weeks, I would like us to think more about building holiness in our lives than just simply giving up something for the 40 days of Lent.
There is not anyone here… not anyone… who has learned all they can about who God is. There is also not anyone here who cannot learn more of who God is. If we’re going to spend eternity with God, I think it is important that we learn his holiness as best we can now.
Friday, people celebrated St. Valentine’s Day, a day to show your love to those you love. The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to show God our love for him. Can we make this a Lent of love, a Lent of holiness?
I know what I am doing. I have already picked out the devotional book I’m going to use this year. It is called “Remember Your Death.” I know: strange title! Please, think about what you are going to do this Lent for your love of God.
By the way, speaking of books: I have purchased a number of copies of a book by a rather young bishop. I have read it, and I like it. The title of the book is: “Letter to a Suffering Church: a bishop speaks on the sexual abuse crisis”. I purchased them for anyone who is interested. They are in the back of the church, not in the west lobby, but in the back of the church. Please feel free to take one if you would like.
And… get ready for Lent.