Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28; Romans 3:21-25,28; Psalm 31; Matthew 7:21-27.
In our lesson from Deuteronomy, God, through Moses, says, “I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: a blessing for obeying the commandments of the Lord, your God…; a curse if you do not…” In our Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, Our Lord says, “Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on a rock…Anyone who hears my words but does not put them into practice is like the foolish man who built his house on sandy ground.” Then in Romans, St. Paul says, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from observance of the law.” This third statement seems to contradict the other two, but it doesn’t really, not if we understand what being justified by faith means.
Jesus Christ, in his human/Divine person, is the fulfillment of the law, if we live by faith in Christ, then we, too, are fulfilling the law. That is what St. Paul means when he writes, “All are now undeservedly justified by the gift of God, through the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus.” We are “undeservedly justified” by a “gift of God”, the righteousness is not our own but Christ’s, given to us for our redemption. But a gift must be received, opened, appreciated, employed – not just left wrapped up on the shelf. We must hear and obey Christ’s words, not just by rote, or as a public show, or in fear, but in faith and love. The ones who cried “Lord, Lord!” to whom Christ said, “I never knew you,” were obviously in it for the wrong reasons, strangely enough it seems that even the ability to prophesy or cast out demons is not proof of true faith. So what is? By our fruits will we be known – not something flashy that is here today and gone tomorrow – but over the long haul of our life what is revealed? Not in the terms of success or failure, but who we are in our hearts. Are we kinder, more patient, more open, less rigid, less judgmental? Do we give justice and mercy to others, as well as to ourselves? Do we love and desire the presence and friendship of God more and more? Are we willing to let go of whatever is holding us back from our journey of faith? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves, whatever that may mean, in order to serve and obey God? These are much better indications of a life lived by faith than a public show of righteousness. St. Paul said, not in our lesson today, but he did say it, “Love Christ and do what you will.” The key point being “Love Christ” not “do what you will,” if we truly love Christ, are in an ongoing, personal, as well as liturgical and sacramental relationship with Christ, then, ideally, what we will will also be in Christ, and therefore be in obedience to the will of God. I say “ideally” because as human beings we are uniquely capable of messing anything up, but that is also why we can be so overwhelmingly grateful that we are “undeservedly justified”, that in our repentance and faith we can turn to Christ who makes up our deficits with his perfection.
Is our house of faith built upon the strong rock of Christ Jesus? Will it withstand the winds and rain and torrents of life in this fallen world? Or is it built on the shaky sand of convenience, ego and pride that will be washed away in the flood? This is not a one-time question and answer, but an ongoing struggle. Every day we face new challenges to our faith, to our commitment, to our willingness and/or ability to carry on, or old challenges that we thought we had conquered come back, with the resultant discouragement and disillusion. How do we stand solidly upon the rock of Christ when we are buffeted on all sides? By choosing to do so. By taking the words of God into our hearts and souls, binding them on our wrists and foreheads, choosing, as I said last week, to make God the focus of our life and letting everything else fall as it may.
That is what the Saints have done, that is why they are Saints, the only difference between anyone and a Saint is that choice, made over and over again, into eternity. It isn’t easy, and what it takes most is attention, awareness, nepsis, not, as Taoiseach Ivan likes to say, letting your life run on auto-pilot. Be sober (in both senses of the word), alert and mindful, choose who you will be, act with purpose, don’t let it just happen by reacting.
Hearing Christ’s words and putting them into practice is our Christian life, it is what we do and who we are, it is the reason for our being, it is our calling and our desire, it is the faith by which we are justified, reconciled with God, and through which we enter God’s Kingdom.
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