'Doers' of the Word are righteous

  • February 23, 2011
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time March 6 (Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32; Psalm 31; Romans 3:21-25, 28; Matthew 7:21-27)

A theologian once insisted that “religion is unbelief.” While this is probably a stark and exaggerated statement in need of much qualification there is also a kernel of truth in it.

There is a human tendency to construct a religion as a buffer or barrier between them and God. In this way they can “control” God and keep God away from the innermost part of their heart and soul where God desires to dwell. Religion then becomes kind of a game — keeping God “happy,” obtaining divine benefits, but continuing one’s life as usual. It is the tendency and danger that all of the prophets railed against and it was at the core of many of the teachings of Jesus.

The author of Deuteronomy is aware of this danger and makes it clear that God does not want another religion, He wants the human heart and soul. The teachings that are revealed are to become interwoven in the very fibre of our being and become as much a part of us as heart, lungs and blood. The parts of the body described in this passage represent in biblical terms the source of purposeful action, understanding, personality and thought.

No dimension of the human person is to remain untouched or set apart. The teachings of God must become a way of living — in fact the only way of living — for this path gives life. We depart from the divine principles of justice, compassion, integrity and kindness at our own peril, for we can bring destruction on ourselves and our communities.

God is not under any illusions that anyone can live up to these ideals in a perfect manner. Fear, self-delusion, denial, selfishness and a host of other human weaknesses conspire to drag all down and prevent anyone from achieving the goal. Paul so rightly exclaims, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That means there is no room for pride, boasting or passing judgment on anyone.

No favourites with God and certainly no special status for any group regardless of how they regard themselves. Since salvation is a gracious gift from God the only proper human response is a humble admission of weakness and failure to meet God’s hopes and expectations for us. Our journey to God is not a cosmic self-help project but humble co-operation with divine grace.

Many new buildings and houses look flashy and impressive. But after every storm, hurricane or earthquake the real quality of these buildings is readily apparent. Cheap materials, shoddy construction and improper foundations always result in destruction or disaster. The impressive appearance of the building counts for very little. Only those edifices built with patience, care, good materials and solid foundations survive. Jesus uses a similar metaphor to illustrate the same point that the reading from Deuteronomy made.

Using religious language, being religiously observant, calling on the name of Jesus and even the performance of impressive deeds of spiritual power do not count for much unless we have allowed the Word of God to transform us and create a new inner self. As Jesus insists, the test of how well we are doing that is whether we truly do the will of God. The divine will often takes us where we would rather not go and challenges us ever forward. Or do we do our own will and dress it up in religious language?

The danger of conventional religiosity is that it can become something outside of our self. Portions of everyday life can remained sealed off from the “spiritual” parts of our life. When we are faced with failure, struggle, tragedy or the challenge of difficult situations we find out what we are really made of. What is false or superficial collapses and is swept away.

But when we have developed an inner core of integrity, courage, perseverance, trust, honesty, humility, love and hope we will be able to withstand most anything and to do so with grace and dignity.

Early Christianity was called simply the Way — it was a spiritual path more than a religion. But the Way was never a free ride or a short cut. It always called upon the believer to do more than just believe but to put on the mind and heart of Christ.

As Paul says so well in Romans, it is not the hearers of the word who are righteous in God’s sight but the doers of the word.