Sunday Sermon for March 6, 2011, the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Dt 11:18, 26-28, 32; Rom 3:21-25, 28; Mt 7:21-27
In the first reading today we hear Moses telling the people of Israel that they are to take his words into their hearts and minds and that they are to carry out all of the commandments and statutes that Moses placed before them. As we know, one of the problems that grew from this is that mere external observance of the Law became the norm among the Jewish people.
In the Gospel we have a different requirement for us as followers of Christ. It is true that Jesus says something very similar to Moses in that anyone who hears His words and puts them into practice is like the man who built his house on rock. On the other hand, those who hear His words and fail to put them into practice are like a man who builds his house on sand. However there are a couple of major differences between what it means to follow what Moses commanded and what our Lord commanded.
St. Paul points out the most obvious and important of the differences: a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law. This is important for Catholics because it is easy to think that all we have to do is go through the motions of external observance: show up for Mass, go to perfunctory confession a couple of times each year, wear a medal of some sort and put up a few pictures or crucifixes in your house and think that you are doing well. While it is good to do these things, I do not think our Lord would consider this to be putting His words into practice.
Another trap we need to be careful of is thinking that since we believe in Jesus that we are all but guaranteed salvation. I realize that this is what we hear from a lot of Sunday morning TV preachers, but it is definitely not what St. Paul means when he says that we are saved by faith. Recall the words of St. James when he speaks of these who say they believe in God and think that is enough. He tells them that it is good that they believe in God but so do the demons, and they tremble. Obviously this is not enough to keep the fallen angels out of hell nor is it enough to get them out. If we say that we believe in Jesus, we have to put into practice what He teaches us.
In case we doubt either of these points, all we have to do is look at the Gospel reading to hear about people who prophesied, cast of demons, and worked mighty deeds in the Name of Jesus. Our Lord tells us that His response is that He never knew these people. Clearly they had to have some faith in Jesus in order to do things in His Name and they certainly were doing more than just going through the motions, but they were all sent away as evil doers, to use our Lord’s own words.
Perhaps these people were doing things for their own glory rather than for God’s gorly. Or, perhaps, they accepted the charisms the Holy Spirit gave them, but they did not live lives of true holiness (remember that one does not even have to be in the State of Grace to exercise the charismatic gifts). Whatever the reason, The Lord was requiring something more than what these people were doing. This does not mean that you have to be prophesying, casting out demons or performing mighty deeds, but it does mean that you have to use the gifts God has given you and also strive to develop the virtues and grow in holiness through prayer and good works. After all, if we are going to build our house on the Rock, then our foundation must be firmly established on that Rock.
The foundation of a building must match the contour of the rock upon which it is built. If Jesus is the Rock on which we are building our edifice of faith, then our lives must be conformed to His. This is just what He tells us when He says that we have to hear His words and put them into practice. Ultimately, His words come down to command He gives us to love God with our whole heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is no way to fool God. We either love Him or we do not; going through external motions will simply not suffice. This is where we have to do, not what the people is Israel idid, but what Moses told them to do: take the words of our Lord into ur minds and hearts and carry them out.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.