Friday of the First Week of Lent

We often show a sort of self-righteous indignation when someone is privileged over us, much like the older son who cries foul when his younger brother is rewarded for having returned after squandering his share of the inheritance (on this, see The Lord responds to us at these moments through Ezekiel’s word: “you say, ‘The LORD’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ez 18:25). We would hardly complain of unfairness if we were the ones thus privileged. This can reveal a desire to “win” at the game of life by gaining some sort of advantage for ourselves, and then complaining when, it seems to us, the rules are changed.

God does not actually change the rules, though, and that is what reveals us to be the ones who are unfair and not God. The rules are simple, actually: we are to love as God loves. And that life of love is within the reach of all human beings, through God’s grace. This is why Jesus says, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). Jesus is simply telling us that because we have been offered the love of God and have experienced that love, we are called to love with that same love. But such a love surpasses that of those people who are merely striving to be good persons without having had the benefit of knowing the depths of God’s love that has been revealed to us. Of course, God wants to reveal it to them as well! But what if it is precisely through the love that we live that God wishes to reveal the depths of his love to our neighbor who does not yet know it? If we fail to show our neighbor this love, we are guilty of a deeper sin than one who fails to love without ever having known the depths of God’s love.

Precisely because God wants to reveal the depths of his love through our love of neighbor, Jesus’ words in this gospel to whomever would dismiss his neighbor as a fool are particularly harsh (Cf. Mt 5:22). If we have ever behaved in this way, we should not presume that our “offerings” are pleasing to God if we have not honored God’s most basic request: to love. We should “leave [our] gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with [our] brother, and then offer [our] gift” (Mt 5:24).

March 10th, 2017