A righteousness greater than the Scribes and Pharisees?
Sunday 23 February 2014 Articles

Sunday 6th in Ordinary Time year A

I’d like to begin this meeting by introducing myself. I am Fr Neil Chatfield, I’ve been a sinner for 48 years. For 41 of those years i’ve been personally responsible for my actions. I have to confess that many times over those years I’ve aligned my will with fire rather than water, with death rather than life.

Having once acknowledged that I am sinner, that I have a problem, I became aware that I am no longer in control – I never really was. The one choice I had I chose the wrong thing to say ‘yes’ to when I should have said ‘no’. I have realised that this is bigger than I am and I need something bigger than I am to save me.

I was made aware that there was a real problem because of the law of God. By his good grace the Lord gave the law to his people to make them aware of the fault lines between good and evil, right and wrong, and life and death. The absolute honesty of the Law of God makes me face myself with the truth about myself, worts and all! We were made for glory and yet we sold our birth right and threw our crowns into the dust.

The Law highlights the truth and I could like the Pharisees and scribes try to obey the commandments by trying not to steal, rob, lie, cheat, be unfaithful or kill. This maybe to my credit but it changes nothing in my heart where I may do all those things many times in a single day!

The Law can tell me what’s wrong but it cannot change what is in my heart. Yet it is only in the transformation of the heart that our righteousness, our standing right before God, can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees – who can save a wretch like me?!

The Old Testament temple cult of sacrifice taught God’s people that it is only through sacrifice that someone or something can be made holy – in the Exodus the blood of the unblemished lamb that protects the people from the angel of death. How much more then will the true Passover Lamb, Christ the Lord, in his self sacrifice on the cross be able to begin the process of purifying my heart?

Jesus the one who is holy, the one who is pure, pours out his life in an act of love so that we might not die but live. The Law reveals the symptoms of sin but it is the sacrifice of Christ the Lord that deals with the root cause of the waywardness of our hearts.

The one who is life and love in his death and resurrection has overcome that which has bound me fast to Satan’s kingdom of sin and death. This is the mystery that no one could foresee, a mystery that we are invited to enter – the mystery of divine love. Once again I have the opportunity to aline my will with that of the Father – which is love and thus life itself.

In the spirit of Mary at the Annunciation each day I now have the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to the Word of God being received in me, the life of Christ being manifest in me. I can now freely learn how to say ‘no’ to the ever present temptation to go my own way. It is Christ within, something bigger than myself, who alone by the presence of his life and love makes it possible for me to stand right once again before God.

It is the true Passover Lamb re-presented in the sacrifice of the mass here today that will give us, in the sacrament of his body and blood, a holiness that is not our own. Here before you is fire or water, death or life. May we learn to say ‘yes’ after the manner of Mary to the offer of the life of God within us!

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