9th Sunday, year (A)
(Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32; Romans 3:21-25, 28; Matthew 7:21-27)
What is involved in being a disciple of Jesus? What rules govern a disciple’s behaviour? Are there certain actions, certain conventions which, belonging to such discipleship, are characteristic of Christians?
In our society today there are not only many politicians but also many ordinary people who feel themselves obliged to use language that is politically correct – as distinct from what is sincere and true – and to show forth convictions that are publicly acceptable – whatever their moral integrity -- and who, in such ways, find themselves regularly performing before other people rather than living before God. Such persons, if they like to call themselves Catholics and Christians, seek to do both what is acceptable to people in the surrounding society and what is good before God; and consequently, they find themselves torn between the demands of modern society and the requirements of Jesus’ teaching. Ideally in fact, they would like to have a written law somewhat similar to the Jewish Law of old: a code which -- though remaining literally prescriptive -- could always be authoritatively interpreted and adapted in ways that would claim to keep it relevant in, applicable to, and sufficient for, succeeding ages. There can be no denying that it must have been very comforting for the Pharisees to obey their own interpretation of ancient, lapidary, commands, such as we heard Moses give in the first reading:
You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
However, the great danger with such religious observances is that the prescribed commandments and practices, being written down in black and white, so to speak, and handed down from generation to generation, instead of being recognized as ways to express love of God, as Moses expressly wanted, can become themselves the aim of one's life, displacing God Himself so naturally that His absence is hardly noticed:
If you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. (Deuteronomy 11:22-23)
Now Jesus did, indeed, give us commands because He approved the Ten Commandments of the Old Law, but He summed them up in the one great command:
YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF. (Luke 10:27)
You might say, ‘but that commandment is found in the Old Testament, the Jews knew all about that’, and you would be correct. However, Jesus took up that commandment of personal love and gave it immeasurably greater prominence, not only in His teaching but even more so in His own Personal attitude and prayer, where communion with, love for, and trust in, His Father transcended all else.
Nor was that all. For the Jews, the Law was a treasured, concrete, reality, originally given by God to Moses written on tablets of stone, then subsequently protected, preserved, and transmitted as the Torah, written down with loving precision on their Sacred Scrolls, where it was studied ever more diligently and observed ever more minutely … it was before their eyes, in their hands, subject to their appreciation and application. In fact, the Torah was THEIRS.
God Himself, however, was always of another world: His written-down will was well known, but not His Person, nor His presence. In such circumstances, Jesus could easily have been regarded as nothing more than a truly remarkable man for Whom God was somewhat more real than He was to other men of His time, and as such He might well have been acceptable to, and even welcomed by, the majority of practicing Jews. Jesus however destroyed that possibility by destroying the ‘abstractness’ of God, for He not only called Him His ‘dear Father’ so insistently and openly, but above all He taught His disciples that:
The Father and I are One. (John 10:30)
Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me. (John 14:9-11)
In this Good News of the New Testament, there is the commandment of love as found in the Old dispensation, but it is no longer directed via a written Law to a distant God – unseen, and indeed unseeable, even for Moses -- but rather to One made totally Personal and present; a love offered to the heavenly Father through the human figure of Jesus in Whom the very Person of the Father manifests Himself and makes Himself present to us. The Jewish way to God was, and is, through observance of the Law’s prescriptions; for the Christian -- Jesus, Son of man and one of us, Son of God, beloved and only-begotten -- is personally, the Way, the Truth and the Life for all who believe in Him and through Him. Thus love for God can never be supplanted by or transmuted into a fixation on legal observances; the observance of a written law cannot be the supreme way for, can never bring about, the ultimate fulfilment of our Christian experience of life. For the Christian life is, from the first instant of our rebirth through faith, a personal response to the Father’s individual call; a personal love for Jesus the only-begotten Son of the Father and Saviour of all mankind; an expectant awareness of and obedience to the Spirit of Jesus, Who -- as the Father’s Promise and Jesus’ Gift -- is leading us to our fulfilment as disciples of Jesus sharing in His glory with all the saints in the eternal kingdom of the Father.
Communion in and with Jesus, by the Spirit, for the Father is the originating purpose and desired fulfilment of all the hopes, prayers, and endeavours, of the true disciple of Jesus and adopted child of the Father.
Of old, the righteousness of God was manifested in the Law He gave to Israel:
What great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? (Deut. 4:8)
In the fullness of time, however, that same righteousness of God came to be fully and finally manifested in all its amplitude and majesty by the Son of God Himself taking human flesh of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Spirit of God; as St. Paul told us in the second reading:
Now, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.
And we Christians, being made righteous by receiving -- through faith and baptism -- a share in the fullness of God's righteousness manifested in Christ Jesus, are called to fulfil only one commandment, that of love, for, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
Love is the fulfilment of the Law.
And this commandment concerns not something to be done, so much as Someone to be sought, the Father; Someone to be lovingly obeyed, Jesus our Saviour; Someone to be joyfully heard and followed, the Holy Spirit. We should always personally seek the Person, the Face, of the Father, for it is the Father Who originally calls each and every one of us and awaits our response: He calls us to recognise and embrace Jesus His Son, our Saviour and our Brother, so that Jesus Himself might be our constant companion along the way; to trust and obey His promised Gift of the Spirit -- the bond of eternal love uniting the Father and the Son – Who will lead us to where Jesus has taken our human flesh into the very presence of the Father. For those thus called by the Father and guided by the Spirit to share in the glory of their Lord and Saviour St. Paul says:
Against such there is no law. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:23-25)
In Jesus, by the Spirit, therefore, we are always seeking the Father, to know His will, to give Him thanks and praise, as Jesus said in our Gospel reading:
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
On earth we are always pilgrims: always loving yet always longing; always looking upward and pressing forward, yet never having arrived, though knowing the time will surely come.
On the other hand, those who rely on their own performance of a law with specific commands and duties to be fulfilled, look back ever more and more as they grow older, wanting to justify their inevitably increasing weakness by relying upon what they proudly imagine themselves to have already done. Our Lord gave us an example of such self-deception:
Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'
People of God, perseverance in searching to know and love not only the will but the very Person of the Father, trusting hopefully in Jesus as we confidently watch and listen for His guiding Spirit, that is the true hallmark of God's people, as St. Paul himself confessed:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you (Philippians 3:12-15).