The Choice Is Ours

9th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A
6th March 2011
Tony van Vuuren

Dt 11:18-28;  Romans: 3: 21-28;     Math: 7; 21-27

I don’t usually refer to the first reading set for the weekend scriptures but today’s  reading from the book of Deuteronomy really sets the stage for our Scripture texts today, and offers us a wide-angle view of the biblical journey of the past weeks and a focused lens into Matthew’s Gospel. They are fitting readings as we interrupt the ordinary time cycle and prepare to enter into the season of Lent this coming Wednesday.
We hear Moses addressing the people: “I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God; a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your God.”

Choice is what the Christian life is all about: God uses his word and his commandments to transmit his very life to us and to lead us into the truth. Thereafter it is our choice!

Over the past weeks, we have seen that the Sermon on the Mount is clearly Matthew’s greatest composition. More than any other teacher of morality, the Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel instructs with divine power and authority, and makes possible a completely new existence. Matthew offers us many parallels between Moses and Jesus. Moses, the architect of ancient Israel, encountered God on Mount Sinai; Jesus speaks to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 5:3-12). For Christians, next to the Ten Commandments, the Eight Beatitudes (5:3-1) are held up as the Magna Carta (1215) of Christian living, expressing clearly the core of our lives. It is not enough to just possess the teachings of Jesus; rather we must act upon them. It is not enough to just listen to the words of Christ. We have to live by them. Only then will they shed light into our lives. To believe in His words, but not live by them, would be like carrying an unlit lamp down a dimly lit rickety staircase!

Jesus completes the Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel; and as he concludes his teachings, he is calling his disciples and us, to show that we have heard and understood his teachings, by acting on them. This involves more than prophesying, driving out demons and doing other “mighty deeds” in his name. The point Jesus seems to be making is that the “mighty deeds” we should be  performing have to do with modeling our lives on the Sermon on the Mount by: loving our neighbours and our enemies; giving to those in need; forgiving those who offend us, etc. We can’t say we have faith in Jesus, just by calling him “Lord, Lord,” without putting the teachings that Jesus spells out in the Sermon into action.

Jesus gives a brief parable to underline his point. The floods come to both those who hear his words and act on them and those who do not. Faith is no guarantee that we will not have to deal with storms of one kind or another in our lives.

The difference is that if we take to heart what Jesus has said and fashion our lives according to his teachings, we will have a solid foundation on which to stand as we face the swirling stormy winds of sickness, disappointment, failure, criticism, etc. Failing to heed Christ’s word and ignoring God’s presence is an invitation to disaster, failure and misery in our lives no matter how vainly we attempt to cover up our lives filled with clutter and empty noises.

For most of us home is a place where we go to find shelter, protection, warmth and safety. Hence, Jesus uses a house image in the parable, saying, “Make my words your home: live in them; be nourished by them; seek their guidance in hard times; discover in my words the warmth of God’s acceptance when you fail; and find in them God’s strength when you need it.

Make my words your home; they will not let you down. Residing in my words will enable you to stand firm during hard times.”

And it is within reach of us all; but like everything else it requires commitment and training; but most of all it requires us to be uncompromising; we have to build our house on solid rock; on absolute integrity, on God’s commandments and the Gospel of Christ.

Don’t think that this is unattainable. Of course it is. It is a choice that Christ sets before us and he will not ever, ever set anything before each of us that we cannot achieve.

Of course we can extend this to another “house”–our community of believers, the church. If the church is built on the strong foundation rock of Jesus’ word to us, there is a good chance each of us will hear God’s Word.                                           This of course includes our young catechists, who gather on a Tuesday and the Lifeteen group who come together on a Sunday evening after mass.

We must all accept that the foundation of our faith is God’s Word and the building of our house and our lives only happens by allowing His Word to seep into every aspect of everything we say and do, as well as everything we do not say or do. The nourishment that comes from the Word is what helps us to become the radical people Christians are supposed to be; not radical by doing negatively outlandish things, but radical by doing outlandishly caring things.

I wonder how evident our faith is to an outside observer. If they spent a week with us would they be able to see by our actions what we believe? In whom we believe? There is that saying, “Talk is cheap.” Are we living our faith, despite the costs, or it is all talk and we are muttering, “Lord, Lord,” while not backing those words by faith- revealing actions? To live a life of true faith takes exceptional courage and strength; an extremely demanding life, but a life lived so close to God is really the only life worth living.

St. Paul, in the second reading, adds a further point which is important to bear in mind when we’re thinking about the carrying out the demands of the gospel.    Paul came to reject very vehemently the Pharisaical idea that God’s Will could be done by rigidly keeping hundreds of laws and regulations. He was anxious to convince people that genuine faith, genuine closeness to God, is not the product of our own willpower but the result of responding to the offer of grace on God’s part. As he says here, our human sinfulness has driven us away from God and we are reconciled with him only “through the free gift of his grace” – not by any effort of willpower on our part.

Paul was born out of time; his conversion on the road to Damascus apart; he never actually met Christ, but his experience of embracing Christ’s teachings convinced him that the starting-point of genuine spirituality and faith is a sense of our own weakness and the insufficiency of our own strength, coupled with openness to God’s grace and a sense of dependence on his saving power.

We can’t make ourselves holy – God makes us holy, although of course we have to co-operate and respond to God’s initiative. God will only ever invite us to move in a certain direction: he never starts pushing us if we don’t want to budge.

The first reading points the same way. External obedience to laws and commandments doesn’t take us very far. God’s word has to sink into our heart and soul, transforming our character and inner attitudes – and it’s when we let God’s grace seep into our heart and soul that our outward behaviour changes accordingly.

Choice is what the Christian life is all about: choosing the Kingdom; choosing to accept God’s will; choosing the good and rejecting the evil one.

Jesus said to his disciples…, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built their house on rock.

There are many storms ahead in life. Christ is telling us to choose the Gospel; he is telling us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to him and he will guide us safely though our journey. So let us build this house of our lives well and set its foundations on the rock of Christ and his Church.

As we enter the season of Lent let us try to apply our own efforts to discover God’s will and reinforce our personal foundations by placing our lives more firmly and faithfully in God’s hands.

 

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