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Friday of the First Week of Lent
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Opening Prayer: From Psalm 130: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication. If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered. I trust in the Lord.
- Entering Heaven: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Those listening to Jesus must have been shocked at what he said for three reasons. First, the Pharisees and scribes were considered the arbiters of God and his law. No common person would consider questioning their authority in public. Secondly, Pharisees were strict observers of the law, adhering to the oral laws and traditions. Scribes translated and taught the law of God. How could anyone be more righteous than they were? Finally, Jesus was opening up a path for the common person to access Heaven. With the heavy burden of the over six hundred laws Jews were expected to keep, Heaven was considered an impossibility for the ordinary man or woman.
- Following the Commandments: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” Jesus was teaching us that subtle temptations can lead a person into increasing levels of sin. Once anger over the action of another enters the heart, the emotion can produce condemnation in thought. That critical thought can lead to action against a person, such as calling them, “You fool.” Raqa is an Aramaic word believed to mean imbecile. Each allowance, if not stopped, can lead all the way to killing. Jesus teaches that each sin upon sin increases the punishment due: first judgment, then the courts (Sanhedrin), to finally Hell (Gehenna).
- Leave Your Gift at the Altar: The law of God is not a set of rules meant to deter people from killing, stealing, committing adultery, etc. The law of God is a way of being that transforms the entire person–spirit, mind and body–into living gifts to God who loves each of us. Jesus spent much of his public ministry teaching us that following the commandments of God perfectly flows from living by the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). These words of Jesus challenge us as much as they did the Jews who first heard them. If we harbor anger against another, if we go beyond criticizing a person’s action to condemning that person, if we speak harshly to another, we are liable to God’s justice. Lent offers us opportunities to take inventory of any ill will we hold in our hearts against others. We may have reason to be angry, but Jesus gave us the sacrament of Reconciliation, a sacred place to release our claims against others, leaving behind not only our judgments against them, but freeing us from judgment as well.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, your words are very challenging. It sometimes seems impossible to live the life to which you call me. I know nothing is impossible with God, so I will believe in you and I will repent when I fail. I will try to do your will in all situations and with all people. Jesus, help me. Jesus, I trust in you.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will examine my actions, noting where I have failed to live up to the call of a Christian, and I will ask for forgiveness.
For Further Reflection: Meditate on the prayer Our Lord Jesus gave us, the Our Father.
Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic who seeks to make Jesus more loved through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, and motherhood, and as a writer, speaker, and events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry located in San Antonio, Texas.