HOMILY FOR FRIDAY OF THE 1ST WEEK OF LENT.
THEME: THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES.
BY: Fr. Karabari Paul
‘Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’
In today’s Gospel (Matt 5:20-26), Jesus quoted a law and then showed how the behaviour of a Christian is to exceed the letter of that law. In each illustration Jesus focused on the believer’s motive and heart. It had been said to our ancestors and was rightly accepted as a standard of behaviour. It was the rule, but would it meet the test for a follower of Jesus?
Ordinary people in Jesus’ day revered the apparent righteousness of the religious leaders and could not imagine ever matching them in their piety. Jesus shocked them by stating that entrance into God’s kingdom was available only to those whose righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees. Who, then, could be saved? The problem lay in equating righteousness with external piety, a common understanding of the word both then and now. But the word righteousness throughout the Bible always denotes right relationships, with God and with people around us.
This becomes plain in the illustrations that follow. In Matthew 5:21-26, it is not enough not to murder someone; we must guard against harbouring anger that leads to insults and broken relationships. We may feel anger, but the right way to handle anger is try to resolve conflict (Matt. 18:15-19), not to push the person away with insults or slander. Jesus was clear that a right relationship between you and your brother or sister is so vital that you could forego religious practices until you have cleared the matter between the two of you.
There were three things wrong with the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and we find all three of them in Matthew 23.
1) It was self-serving (Matthew 23:5-7). First of all, their righteousness was self-serving. Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:5-7: “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:5-7) They were not being righteous out of love for God but out of show for men. Their righteousness was not God-directed but self-serving.Now, we know that doing good in the world is part of being a Christian. When we’re in tune with God, that love and joy naturally spills out into actions that make a difference to the people around us. Of course, sometimes that means that people see us doing those good deeds, and we don’t think that Jesus would be mad at us if people happen to notice us living like Him. It’s less about who sees what, and more to do with motive.
2) It was partial (Matthew 23:23). Secondly, their righteousness was partial, not complete. Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23) They were not obeying all of God’s law, only the parts that mattered to them.
3) It was external only (Matthew 23:25-28). Thirdly, their righteousness was external only. Look at Jesus words in Matthew 23:25-28: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28). Look at how Jesus talked about the Pharisees. He said that ‘everything they do is done for people to see’ (Matthew 23:5), and went on to call them ‘whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean’ (Matthew 23:27). That is pretty clear, then. It’s not the deeds on the outside that are a problem, it’s the heart and the motive within. We don’t necessarily have to go to undercover-agent lengths to hide or deny our good deeds, but we do have to make sure that they are done with a humble and prayerful heart. If we ensure that our motivation is glory for God, not for ourselves, we’ll be on the right track. God demands righteousness in your heart, and their righteousness was external only.
Oftentimes, the duality of purpose is used to show that we account for our choices in life. It is very common to see this in the Bible; life and death, good and evil, light and darkness, good fruit and bad fruit, blessing and curse. While one is used to describe what is godly, the other shows our misleading path towards the devil.
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God respects the free will of man to choose his way of life. In the First Reading (Sirach 15:15-20), “If you will, you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, good and evil, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.”
Choosing to do the right thing each time can be challenging. The right things are not always the easy things. We might have to overcome the emotions we feel. We might have to go against what we really want to do. But doing the right thing, the thing that God wants us to do, is vital if we are going to follow Him. Every day, we are faced with lots of opportunities to make the right choice. The choice to do what Jesus would do in that situation. The choice that will bring us closer to His nature. Sometimes we might not really realise we are facing that choice – ever avoided that person in church who is always on their own? Ever ignored an opportunity to pray with or do good to someone who is going through a difficult time because you don’t want to get involved in their troubles? It is so difficult to constantly make the godly choice. Thus, we need to be more closer to Jesus the source of all goodness. We must have a good relationship with others before we can claim we are right with God. GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE. God bless you and your household. May God grant us the grace to have a good relationship with one another through Christ Our Lord Amen. Good morning.
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