Friday, March 2, 2012

The consistency of authentic faith (Friday, 1st Week of Lent, Matt. 5: 20-26)

The scribes and Pharisees were persons who lived their faith on the outside. While they were not always that way, eventually they became more interested in a person’s external acts of righteousness than in the interior dispositions of his heart.

Religion for them had become a show, a hollowed-out shell, pleasant-looking on the outside perhaps, but holding nothing genuine and substantial on the inside.

That’s why Jesus reminded his followers that their righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. He wanted them to be on guard against religious acts done simply for show.

It was always his teaching that our inner thoughts are just as important as our outward deeds, and that it isn’t enough to appear good on the outside, we must also be truly good on the inside.

As far as Jesus was concerned, our motives, thoughts and desires are as important, and at times even more important, than our actions themselves. For the scribes and the Pharisees of his day, the outside alone mattered.

Jesus doesn’t say of course, that the inside alone is what counts. What he does says in today’s gospel is that genuine faith is one that makes our outward actions and internal motives correspond to each other.

This is the kind of faith and righteousness for which he wishes us to strive. It will not be easily attained. For it requires hard work, perseverance, and patience with ourselves whenever we fail to live up to the integrity of heart, mind, and soul that Jesus enjoins upon us. And yet we must press on; for as he says in the gospel, our very entry in the Kingdom of heaven depends on it.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)