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The Fullness of Righteousness
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20–22
The scribes and Pharisees were masters of the Old Law. Now that the Messiah had arrived, they were unwilling to go deeper and move beyond the Old Testament teachings that they often misrepresented. They preferred a black-and-white approach to morality that had been with them for centuries and did not want to change when presented with Jesus’ new and higher calling.
Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes. In today’s portion of Jesus’ sermon, we are taught about anger, adultery and oaths. In every case, Jesus refers to the Law as it was taught in the Old Testament but then elevates it to an entirely new level. The line quoted above makes it clear that the only way to accept these new teachings of Jesus was to surpass the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees. And the dire result of not surpassing their righteousness was the loss of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus begins by recalling the Old Testament commandment, “You shall not kill.” But then He takes that commandment further by saying that “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Of course, killing remains a grave sin. But now Jesus explains that the interior attitude of anger, even if not acted upon, is a sin. He goes on to teach a similar lesson about adultery and swearing oaths.
It is helpful to understand these new teachings in the context of the approach that the scribes and Pharisees took in regard to the Old Testament. About that, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Thus, the primary problem with the scribes and Pharisees is not that they failed to teach the Old Testament Law properly. The primary problem is that now that the Messiah has arrived and has ushered in a new time of fulfillment and righteousness, they would not go deeper and would not embrace the fulfillment of the Law of God. They are not willing to grow in holiness and embrace the fulfillment of all that had been taught before.
Reflect, today, upon the calling given to you by our Lord’s new and glorious teachings. If you are to truly embrace the Gospel of our Lord and live in His New Law of grace, then you must be willing to go deep, become truly radical in your faith, and allow God to transform every part of your life. The New Law is one of the fullness of love, mercy, surrender, zeal, conversion and transformation. Commit yourself to surpassing the old and limited righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and God will do glorious things in your life.
Lord of all grace, You came and not only taught us about the heights of holiness, but You also lived it and have bestowed upon us all we need to imitate Your every virtue. Please fill me with Your mercy and strength so that I may live a new righteousness of the fullness of love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Mark 1:40–41
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 14, God gave Moses a purification rite to be used for those who were cured of leprosy. This detailed rite that spanned several days was used to reintegrate a healed leper back into society. After Jesus healed the leper in today’s Gospel passage, He ordered him to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” Thus, Jesus not only healed the man but instructed him that he was ready to be restored to the community.
At that time, leprosy was a horrible disease, not only for its physical effects, but also because the leper was not permitted to be a part of the society. This was because leprosy was quite contagious. By keeping those infected separate, the disease did not spread as easily to others.
As we ponder this healing, try to imagine not only the pain caused by the leper’s disease, but especially the pain caused by his isolation. Obviously, there were no phones at that time, no video chatting, and no means of communication from a distance. Therefore, isolation would have meant a complete loss of the person’s relationship with his family and friends, as well as his former livelihood, home and all that was a part of his life.
On a spiritual level, the various illnesses that Jesus cured are, in part, to be seen as symbols of sin. In the case of leprosy, we should see this illness as a symbol of the effects of mortal sin. And mortal sin, unless it is cured by God’s forgiveness, has the effect of completely isolating a person from the life of grace. One becomes cut off from a relationship with God, as well as every other relationship that is centered in Christ. When one commits mortal sin and remains in that sin, that person is not capable of true love, since all grace is gone from their life. Therefore, their relationships become self-centered, demanding and unholy.
For those who have fallen into mortal sin, this leper is a symbol of the way out. First, he came to Jesus and knelt down before Him. He humbled himself before our Lord, acknowledging that Jesus was the answer to his ailment. He then begged Jesus for help. But the way he begged Jesus is also revealing.: he did not demand a healing but instead simply professed his faith in the fact that Jesus could heal him. And then he knelt there in trust and hope. This leper teaches us the perfect way to approach our Lord when we struggle with serious sin.
Reflect, today, upon this leper. Try to understand his isolation and loss. Try to understand his humility and faith. And seek to imitate the way that he comes to our Lord. Do not be afraid to humble yourself before God as you acknowledge the sins and other needs you have. Profess your faith in His almighty power and love, and place yourself into His hands of merciful love. He will not let you down.
Most merciful Lord, You desire all of Your children to be healed of the many sins that keep them from communion with You and with Your people. Please give me the faith and trust I need to always be able to humble myself before You so as to receive the restoration to Your grace I so desire. Jesus, I trust in You.
Beatitudes and Woes
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” Luke 6:24–26
Luke 6:20–49 offers us a shortened version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke’s version of this sermon takes place on a plain, “a stretch of level ground.” The teachings in the two Gospels are very similar, despite their difference in length. Luke’s teaching on the Beatitudes adds the “woe to you’s” quoted above, which are not found in Matthew’s version.
The early Church Father Saint Bede comments that Saint Luke’s version of the “woes” are meant for those who are “uninstructed hearers” because they “must first be brought by terrors to good works.” He goes on to say that the first part of the Beatitudes, the “blessings,” are meant for the “perfect” because they “need but be invited by rewards” rather than fear of punishment. The fact that Saint Luke includes a teaching for both the sinner and the saint should lead us to the conclusion that we can benefit from both approaches in our spiritual lives.
When your spiritual life is strong and you are consistently avoiding serious sin, it might be more helpful to reflect regularly upon the blessings found in the Beatitudes. This will have the effect of drawing you into greater perfection as the desire for the reward of holiness becomes the object of your hope.
When your spiritual life is weaker and you are regularly struggling with more serious sin, it might be more helpful to reflect upon the woes of the Beatitudes. This will have the effect of deterring you from the cycle of sin you struggle with, on account of the fear of the consequences of those sins.
In the end, the Beatitudes and their subsequent woes are meant to point us interiorly to the desires of our hearts. We must become more and more aware of what occupies our thinking and desires. Ultimately, wealth or poverty, hunger or satisfaction, worldly praise or persecution do not matter. What matters is that our hearts are detached from the desires identified in this sermon so that we more fully desire only God and His holy will, regardless of the circumstances of life we find ourselves in.
Reflect, today, upon your own spiritual and moral life and first consider whether you are blessed to be living a life that more imitates the saints or whether you more often reflect the serious struggles of the sinner. From there, try to choose which form of teaching you need the most. Do you need to ponder the rewards of seeking even greater beatitude in life so as to grow deeper in holiness? Or do you need Jesus’ clear condemnations to help you break free from the cycle of sin with which you are struggling? Humbly identify that which is most helpful to you right now in your spiritual life and allow this full sermon of Jesus to help you on your journey to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lord of holiness, I do desire to follow You and become truly holy. Please free me from my sin so that I am able to avoid the consequences of those sins. Please help me to also desire the heights of holiness so that I will receive the great rewards that You promised to the saints in Heaven. Jesus, I trust in You.
From the Depths
Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Mark 8:11–12
Jesus had performed many miracles. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and fed thousands with only a few fish and loaves of bread. But even after all of that, the Pharisees came to argue with Jesus and demanded a sign from Heaven.
The response of Jesus is quite unique. “He sighed from the depth of his spirit…” This sigh was an expression of His holy sorrow over the hardness of hearts of the Pharisees. If they had the eyes of faith, they would have no need for yet another miracle. And if Jesus would have performed a “sign from heaven” for them, even that would not have helped them. And so Jesus does the only thing He can—He sighed.
At times, this type of reaction is the only good one. We may all face situations in life where others confront us with harshness and stubbornness. When this happens, we will be tempted to argue with them, condemn them, try to convince them we are right, and the like. But sometimes one of the holiest reactions we can have to the hardness of our heart of another is to experience a deep and holy sorrow. We must also “sigh” from the depths of our spirits.
When one is hard of heart, rational talking and arguing will prove to be of little avail. Hardness of heart is also what we traditionally call the “sin against the Holy Spirit.” It’s a sin of obstinacy and stubbornness. In that case, there is little or no openness to the truth. When you experience this in the life of another, silence and a sorrowful heart are often the best reaction. Their hearts need to be softened and your deep sorrow, shared with compassion, may be one of the only responses that can help make a difference.
Reflect, today, upon any person in your life with whom you regularly argue, especially regarding matters of faith. Examine your approach and consider changing how you relate to them. Dismiss their irrational arguments and let them see your heart in the same way that Jesus allowed His divine heart to shine forth in a holy sigh. Pray for them, have hope, and allow your sorrow to help melt the most stubborn of hearts.
My compassionate Jesus, Your heart was filled with the deepest compassion for the Pharisees. That compassion led You to express a holy sorrow over their stubbornness. Give me Your same heart, dear Lord, and help me to grieve not only over the sins of others, but also over my own sins, especially when I am stubborn of heart. Melt my heart, dear Lord, and help me to also be an instrument of Your holy sorrow to those in need of this grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Comprehending the Mysteries of Heaven
Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” Mark 8:17–18
How would you answer these questions that Jesus posed to His disciples if He had posed them to you? It takes humility to admit that you do not yet understand or comprehend, that your heart is in fact hardened, and that you fail to see and hear all that God has revealed. Of course there are various levels to these struggles, so hopefully you do not struggle with them to a grave degree. But if you can humbly confess that you do struggle with these to a certain extent, then that humility and honesty will gain you much grace.
Jesus posed these questions to His disciples within the larger context of a discussion about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. He knew that the “leaven” of these leaders was like a yeast that corrupted others. Their dishonesty, pride, desire for honors and the like had a seriously negative affect upon the faith of others. So by posing these questions above, Jesus challenged His disciples to see this evil leaven and to reject it.
Seeds of doubt and confusion are all around us. It seems these days that almost everything the secular world promotes is in some way contrary to the Kingdom of God. And yet, just like the disciples’ inability to see the evil leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, we also frequently fail to see the evil leaven within our society. Instead, we allow the many errors to confuse us and lead us down the path of secularism.
One thing this should teach us is that just because someone has some form of authority or power within society does not mean that they are a truthful and holy leader. And though it’s never our place to judge the heart of another, we absolutely must have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see” the many errors that are held up within our world as good. We must constantly seek to “understand and comprehend” the laws of God and use them as a guide against the lies within the world. One important way to make sure we do this well is to make sure that our hearts never become hardened to the truth.
Reflect, today, upon these questions of our Lord and examine them especially within the broader context of society as a whole. Consider the false “leaven” taught by our world and by so many in positions of authority. Reject these errors and recommit yourself to the full embrace of the holy mysteries of Heaven so that those truths and those truths alone become your daily guide.
My glorious Lord, I thank You for being the Lord of all Truth. Help me to daily turn my eyes and ears to that Truth so that I will be able to see the evil leaven all around me. Give me wisdom and the gift of discernment, dear Lord, so that I will be able to immerse myself into the mysteries of Your holy life. Jesus, I trust in You.
God’s Almighty Power
Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida, people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Mark 8:22–23
Bethsaida was one of the towns just north of the Sea of Galilee in which Jesus preached. Later in His public ministry, Jesus condemns the town of Bethsaida for its failure to convert. “Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).
It may be because of their lack of faith and immoral living that Jesus led the blind man outside of the city before He cured Him. And it appears that the people who brought the blind man to Jesus brought him not because of their deep faith, but because of curiosity. This might also be the reason that, once Jesus cured the man, He sent him to his home saying, “Do not even go into the village.” Thus, Jesus knew that this miracle would not lead to faith in the hearts of those living in Bethsaida. So, Jesus instructed the man not to return there.
God has almighty power and can clearly do whatever He chooses, whenever He chooses. And what He often chooses to do is to exercise His almighty power only in the presence of those who already believe, or at least in the presence of those who have not yet rejected Him. When Jesus encounters people who have heard Him preach but have failed to come to faith, He refuses to perform any miracles in their presence.
What this tells us is that faith must come first; then, God’s Almighty power flows freely. Of course, the grace of the Word of God is always given to everyone. The seed of God’s holy Word is always available to all. But it’s important to distinguish between the sending forth of His holy Word of the Gospel and the sending forth of His transforming almighty power. The only way to receive the latter is to first accept the former. Unless we hear, accept and believe in His Word, we will not receive the grace of His transforming power.
With that said, it must also be understood that God’s “almighty power” cannot be reduced to miracles alone. We all know that physical miracles are not nearly as prevalent today as they were at the time Jesus walked the earth. But His almighty power is still at work today; and in a way that is even greater than when Jesus walked the earth. Today, His power is one that transforms us interiorly by the fullness of grace and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. That is the true miracle that we must always seek and anticipate when we have heard the Word of God and responded with authentic faith.
Reflect, today, upon your faith and your need for God’s transforming power in your life. Do you see faith alive within you? If so, then you will most certainly encounter the power of God in your life and the transformation given by the Holy Spirit. If you do not see this power of grace and interior transformation at work, then ponder the image of Jesus leading the blind man outside of the city to exercise his power. Seek first to have faith, because if you do, our Lord will be able to remain close to you and will do miracles within your soul.
All-powerful Lord, You choose to send forth Your almighty power upon those who have come to faith in You by receiving the Gospel You have sent forth. Please open my ears to hear so that I will choose to convert and believe and, thus, be disposed to be transformed by Your abundant grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Understand, Accept, Embrace
Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Mark 8:27
In answer to this question, the disciples informed Jesus that some thought He was “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” But then Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was. It was Peter who responded by saying, “You are the Christ.”
As we ponder this exchange between Jesus and the disciples, try to hear our Lord ask you the same question. “But who do you say that I am?” Though you most likely will find this easy to answer on an intellectual level, don’t answer it too quickly. Think about it. Deep within your soul, what do you believe about Jesus?
Though Peter’s answer is the correct answer, it’s important to ponder what that actually means. This is especially evident by the fact that as soon as Jesus began to explain His mission as the Christ, Peter could not accept it. Jesus explained to Peter and the other disciples that, as the Christ, he would “suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” In other words, Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the essence of His mission. His mission was one in which He would become the sacrificial Lamb of God and die for our sins. But this was too much for the disciples to immediately understand, accept and embrace with gratitude.
Do you understand, accept and embrace this primary mission of Jesus? Do you understand that because of the sins you have personally committed, you need a Savior? Do you understand that the consequences of your sins are death? Eternal death? And do you further understand that it is only by Jesus’ death that all sin and death are destroyed?
Sometimes we can fall into the fallacy of thinking that Jesus is only an inspirational figure Who teaches us how we should live. And though that is true, Jesus is so much more. He is the one and only way to Heaven. Without His death and resurrection we cannot attain Heaven. He is the one and only Savior. The Lamb Who was slain for our sins. The one and only source of eternal redemption. The exclusive bridge between Heaven and humanity. And though you might understand this intellectually to a certain extent, your faith in this fact must enter deeply into your soul so that you can believe it and embrace His gift of eternal salvation within the deepest core of your being. This takes a radical understanding, acceptance and embrace if we are to truly receive the gift of Jesus’ life.
Reflect, today, upon how you would answer this question from our Lord. “Who do YOU say that I am?” If you are to answer this correctly, then it requires that you continually deepen your understanding, acceptance and full embrace of the saving mission of our Lord. Though this is a lifelong process, we must never stop entering more deeply into this divine mystery and gift so that we will become completely transformed by the life, death and resurrection of He Who is the Christ of God.
Saving Lord, please open my mind and heart to You more deeply this day and every day of my life. May I continually go deeper in my faith and understanding of You and Your divine mission of salvation. As I do, please transform me more and more so that I will be more fully disposed to receive all that You came to bestow upon me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Mark 8:36
This short and direct question is worth much meditation. In Mark’s Gospel, this line comes within the context of Jesus teaching about the requirements of being His disciple. And it comes after Jesus began to explicitly teach that He Himself would suffer and die as the Christ.
Think about this question above, starting with the first part of the question. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world…” Do you want to gain the whole world? For most people, such a possibility is quite enticing. To “gain the whole world” is to gain everything this world has to offer. Imagine being offered unlimited wealth in this world. What if you were to win the largest jackpot any lottery ever offered and more? What if you were able to have beautiful mansions around the world, your own private jet, every modern convenience, the most expensive of cars, and the ability to do whatever you wanted for the rest of your life? Is this enticing? Certainly it is on a superficial level. But it is also a very deceptive enticement, because all of this could not make you any happier or more fulfilled than you already are.
The second part of this question is also easy to address. Would you want to forfeit your life? Certainly not. So Jesus offers two contrasting statements in one sentence. Most people would want to gain the whole world but would never want to forfeit their lives. Jesus sets up this contrast as a way of telling us very clearly that we cannot desire one without also choosing the other. In other words, if your heart’s desire is for the riches of this world, then you do indeed forfeit your very life to the extent that you give into that desire. On the contrary, if you choose the salvation of your soul, then you must forfeit the desire for the riches and enticements of this world. You cannot desire and choose both.
With that said, there might be a very rare soul who has many things in this world but has no attachment to them at all. They live completely detached from the things of this world, finding true satisfaction only in God and His holy will, becoming indifferent to any material things they have. Of course, this is a very difficult interior disposition for one to arrive at when they have accumulated much wealth.
Alternately, there are those in this world who have very little. They are truly poor in the literal sense. However, they spend their days dreaming about riches and covet all that they do not have. Sadly, this poor soul is, in fact, just as materially attached as the one who has made riches the goal and focus of life. And that interior attachment will do great spiritual damage.
Reflect, today, upon this question of Jesus: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Use that question as a source of prayer, meditation and self-examination. Try to be honest about your desires. If you find that you spend much time daydreaming about riches, then pay particular attention to this question. Life in its fullness can never be obtained through those desires or the fulfillment of those desires. God and God alone fulfills. Seek God above all else and you will find that nothing this world has to offer comes close to the riches of the Kingdom of God.
Lord, You and You alone are the source of fulfillment in life. Please purify my desires so that I ultimately desire only You and Your holy will. Free me from every deception and false enticement in life so that I will find satisfaction only in You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Listen to Him
Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Mark 9:2–3
The message of the Transfiguration must become, for each of us, a message that inspires the deepest hope throughout life. Through this event, the glory of God was revealed, the teachings of Moses and the prophets were confirmed, and the Father sent forth the only message we need to understand: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If we can understand this truth and follow this command, we will eternally share in the glories the Transfiguration revealed.
To begin, consider the fact that this revelation, by which the human veil of Jesus’ flesh was lifted, left Peter and the other disciples in a state of holy awe. Peter wanted to remain on the mountain with His transfigured Lord forever. Contrast this to his choice to run when Jesus was arrested and then to deny he even knew Jesus. When he saw Jesus’ sacrifice begin, he ran and hid. But here, when he sees Jesus’ glory, he wants to remain with Him forever.
The first lesson we can take from this passage is that it is much easier to embrace glory than sacrifice. It is much easier to choose that which gives consolation than that which results in fear and confusion. And though this is understandable from the perspective of fallen humanity, it is certainly something we must work to correct in our spiritual lives, just as Peter ultimately corrected in his life.
The Transfiguration was given to these disciples, in part, to help them down the road as the Father invited them to embrace a life of sacrifice. Eventually they would come face-to-face with their own crosses, and they would have to make a decision as to whether they would embrace those crosses out of love. Sacrifice means just that: embracing suffering out of love. One thing that helps one choose sacrificial love is a knowledge of what that sacrifice produces. That is what the Transfiguration provided. By seeing the transfigured glory of Jesus, Peter, James, and John were eventually able to deduce in their minds and hearts that the sacrifice that Jesus foretold would ultimately end in eternal glory.
Though you most likely have never had the experience of seeing the transfigured glory of Jesus with your own eyes, many have received spiritual consolations at various times in life. When this happens, we want them to remain. But they rarely do. Instead, God gives us just a glimpse of His glory so that we can hold on to that memory and use it when we need it the most. And those times will come when we listen to and obey the voice of the Father. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Reflect, today, upon the fact that the Jesus Who is now in glory is that same Jesus Who walked the earth. He is the same Jesus Whose teachings are recorded in Scripture. The same Jesus Who suffered injustice. And the same Jesus Who rose victoriously. Our lives are filled with many experiences, as was true of Jesus. Therefore, the only way to unite every experience we have in life is to follow the command of the Father. “Listen to him.” Listen to the voice of the Savior. Follow Him up the mountain of consolation. Remain with Him through every suffering and cross. And listen to everything He teaches. If you do, one day you will, indeed, be invited to remain with Him in glory forever.
Transfigured Lord, along with Peter, I also desire to remain with You forever. Give me the grace I need to always remain with You, no matter where You lead. May I remain with You during every sacrifice I am asked to offer, every suffering I endure, and every consolation that blesses my soul. May I always listen to You and obey Your holy Word. Jesus, I trust in You.
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