Ninth Sunday of the Year March 06, 2011

Readings:  Deuteronomy 11:18.26-28; Romans 3:21-25.28; Matthew 7:21-27

The readings of today invite us to live in a spirit of fidelity to God and follow his word.  In today’s first reading, Moses finds life in the word of God and stresses the importance of the commandments to the Israelites as he tells them that the keeping of the commands brings divine blessing while their neglect calls on his curse. This spells out the seriousness of God’s covenant with his people. Moses encourages his people to take God’s words into their hearts, listen to him and find his blessings.   Paul in the second reading emphasizes that we become righteous only by the grace of God.  He proclaims that God the Father saves us from sin by the redemptive death of Jesus. He uses the phrase “the righteousness of God” to mean God’s initiative in saving us. We cannot boast of our own holiness or righteousness before God. We are holy because God has made us holy by his own initiative. It is God’s free gift, and nothing but God’s great love makes us deserving of this.  In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches that salvation depends on putting his teaching into practice and not just saying right words.  Jesus insists that each person strives to put the Lord’s words into action. That is the way we truly do the will of God. Jesus compares this practical behaviour to a house constructed with a solid rock foundation as against a house built just on sand. A solid foundation of a house will withstand any storm. Thus living in accordance to God’s words and his teachings provide solid foundation to our lives. Faith becomes like the rock that will not erode. When God’s words are not deep in our lives and accepted superficially, our faith looks like a house built on sand which gradually erodes and is swept away. Action, not just knowledge or words, provides a secure foundation for a life of faith.

The First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy Moses tells the Israelites who have been in the desert for forty years that on this day God is setting before them a choice of a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if they obey the commandments of the Lord their God that he is commanding them to do and the curse if they do not obey the commandments of the Lord God and turn from the way that he is asking them to follow.  If they keep his word they will certainly be blessed by God and if they do not, they will suffer the just consequences for walking outside of the covenant. Thus Moses urges the Israelites to have absolute respect for God’s words. These words from God must guide all their thoughts and actions. To stress this Moses instructs them to bind God’s words to wrist and forehead.  Such external displays of compliance are intended to represent a sincere inner disposition of fidelity to God.  He reminds them that God does not coerce the people to remain loyal to the covenant. They on their must choose to do so.  But if they ignore the word of God, they would run the risk of experiencing many hardships and their obedience will bring on them many blessings.  Therefore a person needs to be aware that the commandments are not just the Ten Commandments of Mount Sinai. Rather they signify the way of life, built on truth, justice and love, built on the inseparable link of love between God and his people.  

In the Second Reading, the letter to the Romans, Paul says that all need the grace of God in order to become holy and to attain salvation. What was originally given to the Israelites through the Law and the Prophets is now extended to everyone without exception as a gift of love through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Paul tells them that sanctifying grace was a free gift from God brought to us by Baptism through which we are immersed into the life, death, and Resurrection Jesus. Once a person is baptized, he is justified in the sight of God, but he needs to maintain his baptismal covenant in order to inherit eternal life.  He teaches them that under the old Law it was believed that salvation came through one’s keeping of the Law’s requirements. Under the New Law, we have all been saved through Christ who won reconciliation with God for us through his life, death and resurrection.  Again he says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel and they too as followers of Jesus must not be ashamed of it. A Christian should not be ashamed to stand up and be counted among those who practice God’s commands.  He tells them that we are not saved by our good works. People are justified freely by God’s grace.  The death of Jesus on the cross made possible the establishment of a right relationship between God and mankind in Jesus. The basic way of establishing the right relationship with God is to tie our humble performance to the love and the grace which God offers in Jesus. God’s saving love is freely given to us through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Salvation requires more than saying the right words, no matter how powerful and effective those words are understood to be. Matthew makes it clear throughout his Gospel that anyone can say the correct words, utter orthodox doctrines and repeat impassioned prophesies. All this is useless unless they are accompanied by matching deeds of faithfulness. Matthew in fact emphasizes the acts of justice and love as primary characteristics of those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again special emphasis is placed on the listening of the words of Jesus. It is not just sufficient to avoid saying one thing and doing totally another. It is also essential that one carefully listens to the words of the Lord. Listening provides a solid foundation for acting. The reason why Jesus admonishes us to listen carefully is because listening is at the very heart of obedience. In the New Testament obedience can be described as radical listening.  This is the kind of listening that requires the heart just as much as it does the ears. It is the kind of listening that allows the hearer to internalize what has been heard.  Once the teaching of Jesus is heard and internalized then it will get authentically expressed in the kind of behavior that naturally emerges from the hearer. It is precisely this kind of listening and doing on the part of the believer that will ultimately lead him or her into the kingdom of heaven.

The Gospel of today presents the final section of the Sermon on the Mount where it echoes the first part of Lord’s Prayer, hallowed be your name. Here Jesus tells us that not everyone who calls him as Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of the Father in heaven.  Jesus further explains how people would profess their fidelity to him telling him that they had prophesied in his name, and cast out demons and more so worked great miracles.  Jesus tells them that something more than this is required of the true disciple. He or she is someone who is totally united to God in heart, soul and mind. A person can recite prayers and do Lord’s work and yet not be close to the Lord. A real disciple must listen to Jesus’ words and carry them out in his life. In fact the entire Sermon on the Mount presents the essential qualities to be found in the disciple of Jesus. A discipleship is not involved only in doing external practices.  The true disciple as Jesus tells us, is one who listens to Jesus’ words and carries them out and is united with him.

To listen to Jesus and put it into practice means the disciple has to have four interacting qualities. First of all, a disciple has to hear what Jesus is saying. He can only do so by being in touch with the Word of God found in the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments but especially the latter. Many Christians, and even Catholics, have a very scant knowledge of God’s Word in the Bible. They seldom, have time to listen to the word and spend time assimilating it and be aware of the dynamics of the Gospel message.  Secondly, we need to understand what we hear and read in the Word of God. It is very possible to hear or read and not understand the inner meaning like the eunuch of Ethiopia in the Acts of the Apostles. This understanding comes only with effort and willing cooperation. Then the Scriptures give us new insights to live that word and put it into practice. Thirdly, we need to accept fully and to assimilate it into our very being what we have come to understand. It is possible to hear well, to understand clearly but not to accept or assimilate.  This is the process of interiorizing the word.   We cannot be real and total disciple of Christ until we make Jesus and his word part and parcel of our life.  Fourthly, we have to fully assimilate it and live as our own the word of God, thus making it as part of our own thinking and living.  Then his will and his vision will coincide with ours.  Thus contrary to what many people feel, to become a real Christian disciple and to follow the Gospel is not easy as it seems. It is not a question of will power rather it is a way of understanding and living. It is important for us to understand this in the context of today’s Gospel. When we become Disciples of Christ and live the life he calls us to, we do that, not on the basis of our own efforts, but in response to his coming into our lives.

At the end of his sermon, Jesus exemplifies his teaching through the parable of two house builders. The point of the story is the foundation upon which each house is built.  Each builder represents a disciple who hears the word of God. But only one converts hearing into obeying.  Jesus says that anyone who listens to these words of his and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on a foundation of solid rock. Such a house will survive all adverse weather conditions. The foundation on Rock in the religious context is Christ, together whose teaching and vision that guides our own life built on truth and love.  The Palestinian rains were sudden and often streams changed their course of flow.  When such rains came with the unexpected floods and the dangerous winds blew and buffeted the house, it would not collapse as it had been set solidly on rock. However, those who listen carefully the word of God and do not act in accordance with what they have heard are compared to a foolish person building a house on sand. Such a house will not be able to withstand any weather adversity.  It will collapse as its foundation is weak.  Similarly a person who is not able to grasp fully the word of God will not be able to withstand any trial and tribulation in their life. Through this parable Jesus teaches his disciples that the word of God includes several positive commands to be observed. He gives us the Beatitudes, observance of the laws and their fulfillment, avoidance of anger, enmity, sanctity of family life, generosity, forgiveness, and the necessity of the love of enemies.  He stresses the need of almsgiving, prayer, fasting, in the religious practice along with the loyal service of God.  He calls on them not to make false judgment on others.  Jesus insists that Christianity is a total way of living and not just a corrective way of thinking.

Ultimately, the Gospel of today is teaching us to seek the will of God and carry it out in our lives. One needs to build one’s life on the strong foundation of the word of God. Here again, one can be obedient to the word of God followed in the church.  First of all obedience to God’s word is needed for our own spiritual protection. Obedience to God’s word is needed to experience God’s generosity and goodness in our life. We need to be obedient to God’s word reflected in the love of neighbor through whom we come closer to God. Mother Teresa served the destitute because she loved Jesus and saw him suffering in and through them.  St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises explained how the retreatment has to find God in all things and all persons.  Finally a disciple needs to be obedient to God’s word in order to seek only the will of God and follow it for the sake of God.  Thus the Gospel of today is inviting us to seek the will of God and carry it out in our lives. One needs to build one’s life on the strong foundation of the word of God. The blessings which are mentioned in the First Reading of today are not the focus of one’s religious life, but the outcome of obedience to the will of God. Righteousness is not simply following a set of rules and regulations but is part of our call to obedience.

Finally what it means to follow God?  Moses told the Israelites that the Lord asked of them was to love and serve God with their entire being.  There could be no half measures. Their obedience to the commandments should come from their heart and not just the matter of external observances.  If they do this they would be blessed and if they do not they will be cursed.  Jesus told his followers much the same thing.  Proclaiming their faith in Jesus is not enough. Not even performing miracles in his name is sufficient. They have to do his Father’s will if they expect Jesus to recognize them at the time of judgment.  Once again doing this will help them to withstand great storms but a failure to follow his words will result in destruction.

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.  After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand – “Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome.


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