Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Perfection of the Father

Jesus, I trust in you!

Last Sunday, the Lord Jesus said, “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” We might have biased opinions about scribes and Pharisees because we have heard our Lord call them hypocrites. But during his time, these groups of people were the icons of religiosity because of their expertise and minute or detailed observance of the law. If there was anyone who would most likely enter the Kingdom of God, it would most probably be the scribes and Pharisees. No one could be deemed worthier than them.

But to the mind of the Lord, the meticulous observance of the law was not enough. If a person wanted to belong to the Kingdom of heaven, he had to surpass this high Pharisaic standard. In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus raised the standard of holiness. No longer are the scribes and Pharisees the standards of holiness. Instead, the standard would be the Father himself: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the first reading, the Lord said to Moses: “Be holy, for I the Lord am holy.”

What does the holiness of the Lord mean? The holiness of the Lord means that he is not like his creatures. His ways are different. His thoughts are different. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways, for I am God and not man.” That is why to be holy as God is holy means living according to the paradigms of God and not of man. This is difficult because of the immense difference between the ways of God and the ways of the created world.

For example, it is but natural for us to love our neighbor and hate our enemies. It is but natural to love those who love us, those who like us, those with whom we share common interests. It is but natural for us to love those who are good and kind to us. But the Lord tells us that our holiness must be greater than mere natural goodness. Our love must be supernatural. Thus, as the Lord is good to all the good and bad alike, so also our love must not be limited to the lovable but also must extend to the unlovable. “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” While it is natural to feel hatred for the enemy, loving them and praying for those who make life difficult for us is supernatural. This is because God is love. He is kind and merciful. Thus, the Lord admonishes us: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of them. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of them.” This is why “an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth” does not work for us. “Kapag buhay ang inutang, buhay rin ang kabayaran,” likewise does not work for the Christian. Rather, the Christian response to evil is goodness: “Offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. Hand over your cloak to the one who sues you for your tunic. Should anyone press you into service for 1 mile, go for 2 miles. Give to the one who asks of you, do not turn your back on the borrower.”

This is why it is so difficult to propose the way of Christ to the world. The resistance of many to the bishops’ opposition to death penalty and also to extrajudicial killing comes from the fact that the standards of God are way above the natural standards of the world. It is easy to understand why people are more inclined to Duterte’s argument: “Masama sila kaya dapat lang sila mamatay.” Killing the enemy sounds so natural because this is the way the world thinks. Many people cannot comprehend the concept of supernatural mercy and patience. “God does not delight in the death of the sinner. He desires that the sinner should repent and live.”  It takes a lot of faith and a lot of grace to comprehend God’s wisdom in his mercy and patience. And yet, if we want to go to heaven, we must make this great effort to leap from natural logic to Divine wisdom. “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God,” so said St. Paul. If our holiness does not surpass natural goodness (that is, the holiness of the scribes and Pharisees), then we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. No less than the perfection of the Father is what it takes in order to enter heaven. We cannot afford to lower the standards of Christian living because Jesus elevated them.

Christian life is indeed challenging because it beckons us to go beyond the limits of natural goodness. We must aim high – aim for the height of supernatural holiness. Goodness is not good enough. We must be holy as God is holy if we want to enter heaven. Pope John Paul II said: “The standards of Christianity are high. They do not admit mediocre morality nor shallow spirituality.”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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