Friday 03 March 2023 – People of integrity

1st Week of Lent

1st Reading: Ez 18:21-28

Thus says the Lord God: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die. 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? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Gospel Mt 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.”

People of integrity! There is an Igbo proverb saying “The eagle desecrates its beauty when it eats a toad!” Like the eagle, when a virtuous man turns vicious – it is an abomination. As virtuous Christians, our righteousness must surpass that of the world. Driving with an old Turkana pastoralist in a National Park, I asked, “You don’t kill these antelopes for food, Do You?” After a brief silence he said, “Father, you people of the law, there are things-not-to-be-heard-of about you. If I caught an antelope I can’t even gift you because if the wrong people see it with you, it would be trouble!” He called us people of the law! We are at times like the typical scribe or Pharisee struggling to keep God’s law to the letter. Jesus however, invites us to a boundless love of God. St. Augustine says of this love, “Love God and do what you like!” When we truly love, all falls into place. 

PRAYER: Lord, help us understand more deeply your law of love so that we can soar like the eagle in the spirit. Amen!

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GOD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS: One of the central themes in the Gospel of Matthew is righteousness. The Pharisees and scribes, narrowly defined righteousness as obedience to the law. Perhaps, this is not very different from the way most of us define righteousness in our own days. Nevertheless, Jesus challenges that: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” Our righteousness consists in going beyond the law; follow the spirit of the law. Give others more than what is due. Yet, it is our own response to the loving mercy of God that will justify us. It is God who makes us righteous (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11), and it is important to be righteous in the eyes of God (Lk 18:13).

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CONSISTENCY BEGETS EXCELLENCE: Have you ever lost steam of anything midway into it? Consistency in anything demands depth of character. An understanding of what you believe in is a good foundation for your faith. Our faith is not to be largely irrational. On the contrary, we must seek the understanding of what we believe. Many Catholics depart from Catholicism for never having grasped the depth of the Catholic faith. When we understand, we will be more consistent and realistic. Then we are able to sustain our good works beyond the good times. As the prophet warns, when a good man is not consistent and falls into sin he must bear the consequences of his inconsistency. However, when the bad man departs from his wickedness and embraces goodness, he too must enjoy the benefits of his conversion. It is great to start strong; but it is much better to finish stronger, and the latter is possible when we are steady and consistent. Thus, weep not about a bad start, nor should gloat over an excellent beginning. Winners are declared at the end of the race.