Ez 18:21-28; Ps 130:1-8,6; Mt 5:20-26
What is plenteous redemption? It is something beyond kindness. It is found with the LORD, the one who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. This season of Lent beckons us to consider plenteous redemption. In this desert retreat we dare to ponder the wonder of being heard from the depths of our soul. We wait, wait for the LORD to hear our voices. We wait for the ears of the Most High to be attentive to our voices in supplication. The LORD who knows all we have ever done and will do does not mark our iniquities. He is just, but he does not hold a grudge. No one could stand even a millisecond of his pure and absolute justice. The only way we can stand in his presence is because he sits upon a mercy seat. Indeed, with the LORD is found forgiveness, that he may be revered. We approach his mercy seat with awe and wonder; we trust in the LORD. Our souls trust in the Word of the LORD. More than the night watchman waits for daybreak we wait for the LORD. We know he will come with bright mercy and healing on his wings, yet the time passes so slowly as we wait for the fullness of redemption, for plenteous redemption. Is it possible to live in this world as a saint? Is it possible to live in union with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? The prophet Ezekiel ponders such questions, and he writes that if someone repents and begins to grow in virtue, “None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him.” Such good news is reaffirmed by the gospel of Saint Matthew who writes about the severe summons to holiness in the preaching of our Lord Jesus, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” Is this good news?
In the first reading the LORD is instructing his people in the unique call to holiness for each member of the People of God. At the same time the LORD is clear that each individual is responsible, and no one can blame others for his sins. The possibility of repentance remains as long as one has life and breath. Great sinners can become even greater saints. The history of God’s People, both old and new covenant, reveals this truth. King David, adulterer, murderer, and liar, became a repentant man after God’s own heart. His cry for mercy was heard, and he was given a new life. Saint Augustine, among others, was a great sinner who became a great bishop, theologian, and saint. As the LORD proclaims elsewhere in the Sacred Scriptures, “Behold, I am doing something new; the sins and offences of the past I remember no longer.” Along with this great good news, we also hear this warning, “And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die.” Such is the double-edged sword of the Word of God. We can cooperate with his grace and live, or we can reject his grace and die. This is our freedom. This is our desert choice. This is our Lenten pilgrimage.
Have you ever said to your brother, “Raqa”? Have you ever said to your sister, “You fool”? These emotional outbursts can hurt more than anyone realizes. However, can we be held so responsible for such a slip of the tongue? Does it make any sense that such behavior would make us liable to fiery Gehenna? We, who take our prayer seriously and strive to grow in virtue, we know how impossible it seems that we would become a saint. Yet, the lesson in today’s scripture and in our yearly observance of Lent is that we really are called to holiness. God would not place such a burden upon our hearts or in our conscience if it were not in fact a real possibility. However, such a life-goal cannot be achieved by our efforts alone, not by our good will, nor by our merit. Rather, holiness is a gift from God, who is holiness itself. We will be capable of virtue only because in every real life situation we struggle with the little things. Only if we seek the LORD’s constant help and protection daily will we be able to avoid doing evil and never avoid doing good. Indeed, as the saints do testify, Lent is a time to overcome the sloth with which we live the rest of the year. In this kind of fasting from evil and feasting on goodness, our Lent will be more than another liturgical season. It will be a startling and delightful new beginning. So that as we approach the altar throughout the year we can freely offer our gift confident in his mercy, and alive in the love of our brothers and sisters.