FRIDAY OF THE FIRST WEEK OF LENT
READ: MATTHEW 5:20-26
Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."
In so many passages in the Gospels, including our reading today, Jesus gets mad at the scribes and Pharisees. Did he hate them? No. The Pharisees followed the law perfectly, but they didn’t follow God in their hearts. So when Jesus gets mad at them, it is because he could not stand by and see them have an exterior adherence to the rules, but no real interior acceptance of LOVE. He was after their hearts. He longed for their freedom. He wanted them to be restored to the Father’s love, and live life fully. And that went beyond the mere following of laws.
Sometimes we can fall prey to this, as well. It's comfortable to reduce religion to something that affects us only on the surface. To let being Catholic become a thing that we do, as opposed to who we are. The Pharisees WERE righteous. But only on the outside. That’s why Jesus challenges them, and us, to go further. Our relationship with God invites us into something better, and more profound than just “being a good person”. Here is a critical question: do I merely adhere to the rules or have I also abandoned my heart? Following the rules is important only if we have allowed God's love into our hearts first. We need to go to Mass on Sunday, not merely out of obligation, but out of a desire to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, and to worship him. We are called to be moral, and good, not out of duty, but because we have experienced His mercy, and want to share His goodness. Jesus wants more for us. He is after our hearts. He wants us to experience more than surface level religion, which really isn’t religion at all. Today, He is calling us into a relationship with Him and His Church. Let’s respond with our whole hearts.
What would it look like if your Catholic faith wasn’t just about obligation, but the opportunity to encounter Jesus and his love for you?
How do the obligations of our faith (going to Mass on Sunday etc.) point towards God’s desire for our happiness?
What stuck out to you in the passage?
What does this passage tell us about God?
Do you fall into the temptation to think that doing the bare minimum is enough? How?
RESPOND: PSALM 130: 1-8
If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand? Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication. If you, O LORD, mark iniquities, LORD, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered. I trust in the LORD; my soul trusts in his word. My soul waits for the LORD more than sentinels wait for the dawn. Let Israel wait for the LORD. For with the LORD is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption; And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
What's one way you can move from an outward following of rules to an inward abandoning of your heart?