There is both a long form and short form of our Gospel this Sunday. The remarks below are based on the short form of the Gospel. For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021217.cfm
I suspect we have all encountered people who could be described as “holier than thou.” This oft used phrase paints a picture of an individual who’s words and actions suggest an attitude of religious superiority and/or self righteousness. Such were the scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They were not necessarily bad people. The problem was they thought that by knowing and following the law to the letter, they were models of holiness and righteousness. The difficulty with this was that they had allowed the following of the law to become an end in itself and not a means by which they could grow in and develop their relationship with God. That is why Jesus’ opening words in our Gospel today are important: "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then goes on to challenge those who would be his disciples to go beyond the law in their words and actions. This continues to be our challenge. We may not have born false witness or harmed a neighbor, but have we truly tried to love our neighbor as our self. Following the letter of the law is far easier than giving witness to the law by the witness of our lives.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Sirach. In the section we read today the author reminds us of the importance of following God’s commandments. The commandments, though, are given to help us live justly and uprightly. Following them is not an end in itself.
Our second reading this Sunday is once again taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. It reminds us of God’s mysterious and hidden wisdom. It closes with the wonderful promise: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when you have followed the letter of the law, but have stopped at that point?
- Do you think your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees?
- What do you think God has prepared for those who love him?