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Justified by Grace

March 6, 2011

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 11: 18, 26-28, 32 – A Blessing and a Curse

Responsorial: Psalm 31 – Lord, be my rock of safety

2nd Reading: Romans 3: 21-25, 28 – Justification apart from the Law

Gospel: Matthew 7: 21-27 – The True Disciple, the Two Foundations

In Matthew 7: 28 – 29, Jesus wraps up his Sermon on the Mount, ‘When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.’  Which means, their scribes would unroll the scrolls, read what was written, and roll up the scroll, and call it teaching – with the scroll as the authority.  And all the people said, “Amen.”

Now Jesus comes along, and sits in his own authority – the authority of the Most High.  Remember he has been going on for weeks in Ordinary Time, but for them it was one long sitting.  Can you imagine how extraordinary it must have been?  Being taught – first hand – by one who doesn’t just claim to have the authority to teach, but is the authority.  Remarkable. 

Everything merges into one lane here; The end of the Sermon, the End of Ordinary Time, and Ash Wednesday all at one intersection. And it couldn’t be any more crystal clear.  I set before you here this day a blessing and a curse (Dt11: 26).  Lord, be my rock of safety (Ps 31: 3). And in the Gospel, The house built on rock, and the house built on sand (Mt 7) makes for a very clear picture. Even the Gradual spells it out: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit (Jn 15: 5).  The Readings for today are a dichotomy; then and now.

But the one that brings everything into laser-beam focus is St. Paul, writing to those Romans.  It is worth having the whole passage here:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.  They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God – to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.  For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom 3: 21-26,  28).

In the first Reading, Deuteronomy talks of a blessing for obeying the commandments of the Lord, your God and a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord, your God.  These are pretty clear distinctions describing what is in store.  This would be a propitiation – emphasizing the appeasement or averting of God’s wrath and justice.  Old Testament punishment.  40 days of rain.  Sodom and Gomorrah.  But St. Paul talks of expiation – emphasizing the removal of guilt through a payment of the penalty.  It reminds me of a saying I heard: Grace is receiving what I do not deserve; Mercy is not receiving what I do deserve.  In comes Christ Jesus, and removes the wrath of God towards our speeding and reckless driving.  Jesus pays the ticket for us!  God’s grace in us has been justified – by the sin offering of Jesus, his Son.  Christians, and I mean good Christians, must remember that our condition, without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a condition that calls forth God’s wrath, and that the New Testament focuses on divine uprightness and fidelity.

Jesus even tells us his summary from the Mount of Beatitudes, enticing us to get it, ‘Hey, dude, I will do this for you, but you need to do something for it, something faith-filled: come look at this house I am building on rock…’

Have a rewarding, thought-provoking, cleansing Lent.

In Christ,

Papa

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