Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven… For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20)
Last Sunday, Jesus told us that our calling is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He said: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” I often hear Christians say things like: “After all, am I the one that killed Jesus? Must I even be the holiest person on earth?” Today, Jesus tells us: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus is teaching us that another way we can shine our light as Christians is by our commitment to perfection; keeping all of God’s commandments while we teach others to do the same. We cannot be content with average righteousness; we must do more. Jesus employs several examples to illustrate this point thereby giving us several lessons for our meditation today.
*1. Avoid Hypocrisy*
What does Jesus mean when he says our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Simply put, Jesus wants us to avoid putting up a show in public only to become devils in secret. Recall how Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees: “you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27).
Are there things I do in secret that I am ashamed of? People may think I am a saint because they don’t know my secrets but I would end up in hellfire because nothing is hidden from God. Today, God is giving me a chance to repent, a chance to clean the inside of the cup before the outside. (Cf. Mark 7:6-23).
Hypocrisy is the major problem of Christians in this country today. Every Sunday, our churches are full yet evil continues to increase in our society. Preachers are often guilty of the very sins they condemn. Our policemen (and other security agencies) are accused of kidnapping, armed robbery, and other crimes they ought to fight against. Politicians and Government functionaries who swore on oath to protect the people use the people to serve personal interests. Hypocrisy is worse than coronavirus. Run away from it. Repent.
*2. The Offertory that Pleases God is Forgiveness/Reconciliation*
Carrying bitterness in your heart against someone is like holding hot coals with bare hands. It hurts you and makes your offering unacceptable to God. Jesus teaches us today that it is not enough to say “I haven’t killed anybody.” So long as you are angry with someone, so long as you utter a word of insult against someone, you are just as guilty of killing that person. In fact, if you are offering a gift on the Altar and remember there are people you quarrelled with, leave your gifts there, go and be reconciled before coming to render your gifts to God.
In truth, just as it is painful to part with your hard-earned money and donations in church, it is likewise painful to forgive and be the first to initiate reconciliation with someone who has offended you. Yet, God appreciates your forgiveness more than your money or hefty donations in church. God would rather prefer you worship Him simply with a pure heart freed from bitterness than with a bitter heart. It is not easy to forgive but it is the essence of Christian perfection. Unforgiveness destroys us.
*3. Avoid Lust; God is against Divorce*
It is not enough that we avoid the act of sex itself, as perfect Christians, we must fight against all those things which build up the desire for fornication or adultery in us such as immoral looks (lust), indecent conversations (jokes, music), immoral literature and media (pornography), unwholesome relationships, etc. The sexual drive is the strongest drive in every human being; staying pure and holy is one of the toughest battles we have to fight; conquering the flesh requires a great deal of self-discipline and sacrifice; it is like plucking out one’s own eyes or cutting off your hands.
I must confess that I do feel very pained at times when I am attracted to a beautiful girl but instead of approaching her to say “hello”, I just walk away. This is what Jesus meant when he said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) It is painful but it is the essence of Christian perfection.
In the same way, married couples do sometimes face hard times in marriage. They soon begin to consider divorce but Jesus teaches us today that divorce should never be an option because it was not part of God’s plan. Love is for better and for worse. It may be painful to remain with a spouse who no longer loves you, who disrespects you, insults you, or cheats on you but this is the meaning of Christian perfection.
*4. Say the Truth Always: You Don’t Have to Swear*
Jesus teaches us today: “Let what you say be simply `Yes’ or `No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37). Telling lies is the trademark of fake Christians. It is a symptom of a very deep crisis of faith and adherence to the devil who is the father of liars. There is nothing like a “small lie.” Every time we tell a lie, we go against the eighth commandment which says “thou shall not bear false witness.” When we lie, we make ourselves candidates for hellfire as the book of Revelations tells us: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
*5. You Always Have a Choice*
Very often, when someone is caught in the act of doing evil, you hear them say things like: “It was the devil oh.” They try to shift the blame from themselves as though they were simply being remote-controlled; as if they had no choice. The truth is that whenever we face temptations, we always have all it takes to say “No.” We are never without a choice. Our first reading today explains: God “has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man is life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.” (Sirach 15:16-17). If indeed, we had no choice, we would not be liable to judgment, we would be like logs of wood or stone; inanimate objects.
Striving for Christian perfection surely sounds like foolishness to the world. The world we live in today has lost its moral values. Saying the truth at all times, refusing to tell a lie, staying away from sex before marriage, remaining faithful to your spouse even in tough times, keeping one’s heart pure, forgiving others freely and continuously, and staying away from secret sins may not command the respect of people but these are the characteristics of truly wise people. As St. Paul tells us “It is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.”
You surely have a choice. Don’t give up on your struggle. Keeping aiming for perfection. God wants to see your efforts. Yes, you can make it. You can be a saint.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, guide my choices so that my life may dispel the darkness of sin in the world today. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.,
Bible Study: Ecclesiasticus 15:16-21, Ps. 119:1-2,4-5,17-18,33-34, 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, Matthew 5:17-37).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu