Saturday, March 5, 2011

Homily for 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
9th Sunday

in Ordinary TimeMarch 6, 2011
Rom 3: 21-25, 28
Matt 7: 21-27
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … thru faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3: 21).

After 7 Sundays of semi-continuous reading from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, we put that letter aside, incomplete, until the beginning of OT next year, and we take up his Letter to the Romans—to read major portions of it on 16 consecutive Sundays, theoretically. We take it up, however, just in time for it to be interrupted by Lent and Easter. We won’t resume our supposedly continuous reading till July 3.

In our reading this evening we hear the major theme of the letter: we’re justified (made righteous before God) by faith in Jesus Christ and not by our obedience to the Law of Moses.

“The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” “God’s righteousness,” also translated at times as his “justice,” means his holiness. When we speak of our justification or righteousness or holiness, we mean our standing before God in a right relationship, as “just” men and women, as holy—living “in conformity with the divine will,” as one biblical dictionary puts it.[1] The concern of St. Joseph, the “just man” (Matt 1:19), was to obey God in all things.

Our Anglo-Saxon culture accustoms us to think of ourselves as just or innocent based on our observance of law. In a somewhat different manner, so did the Judaism of Paul’s time.

On that basis, tho, we all fall short in God’s eyes. Paul points out, “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). No one keeps God’s law perfectly. No one has been completely faithful to the covenant between God and Israel, and still less of course have pagans pleased God with their idolatry and their immoral lifestyle. (Romans begins with a strong denunciation of both idolatry and sexual immorality [1:18—2:16].) And so no one is on the road to salvation, to “the glory of God” (3:23). As the 1st reading (Deut 11:18,26-28,32) proclaims, “A curse [on you] if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God. Be careful to observe all the statutes and decrees that I set before you today” (11:28,32).

That’s where Jesus comes in. “All who believe … are justified freely by God’s grace thru the redemption in Christ Jesus” (3:22,24). All are justified, i.e., restored to a right relationship with God—a relationship that Paul elsewhere calls a filial relationship (Rom 8:14-17). We’re restored to God’s good graces by grace freely given, by a gift, given to us by Christ Jesus. We deserve death and damnation by virtue of our sins, our failures “to observe all the statutes and decrees” of God; in this same letter Paul solemnly warns us that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). But we receive redemption as an undeserved gift. That’s a summary of the Good News that Paul preaches.

The Eucharist is one of our responses to this unmerited gift of grace from God. In memory of Jesus we celebrate the Body and Blood that he gave for us and gives to us in his passion, death, and resurrection. Consuming his living flesh and blood, we become part of his self-offering, the “expiation by his blood” (3:25), and are filled with his risen life. For this we give thanks to the Father.

So gratitude, ευχαριστία, is our 1st response to God’s gift of his justice thru our faith in Christ. Our 2d response, indicated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is to “listen to” his words and then to “act on” them (Matt 7:24), to “do the will of [his] Father in heaven” (7:21). That brings us back to conforming with God’s will, doesn’t it?

Carrying out God’s will, acting on the “word” of Jesus—obeying his commandments, if you wish to put it that way—thus isn’t the means by which we earn eternal life but is our response to God’s gift. Think of how 2 people in love with each other seek to please each other in their words and actions; they do so not to “earn” the other’s love but to manifest their own love for the other. Our willingness to live as Jesus teaches us to live is indicative of our appreciation for his having restored us to the Father’s good graces, for his having led us home to the Father’s house, for his having made us God’s children. How can we thank him better than by that “sincerest form of flattery,” imitation? by living the way he taught, the way he lived?

[1] Xavier Leon-Dufour, Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Terrence Prendergast (NY: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 257

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