The Righteousness of the Spirit, Tenth Thursday (II), June 12, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
June 12, 2014
1 Kings 18:41-46, Ps 65, Mt 5:20-26

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In these octave following Pentecost, which we enter into by celebrating a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, we continue to ponder the practical impact the Holy Spirit seeks to have in every life. Today in the Gospel, Jesus tells us, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” That’s a very tall order.  The Scribes were the experts of Sacred Scripture in its every detail. They consecrated their whole life to knowing the Word of God. The Pharisees were the ones who sought to live the Word of God expounded by the Scribes to the letter. Many of the Scribes were Pharisees and vice versa. They prayed three times a day. The fasted not just the one time prescribed per year but twice a week. They tithed not only the various items that God had instructed but the tithed their whole income. By worldly, even by classically religious standards, their righteousness seemed to be almost unsurpassable.
  • But they were missing something. Their righteousness was fundamentally based on their own efforts, by their own study, by their own will-power, by their own sacrifices. It also featured an extrinsic understanding of being right with God: as long as they did the right things, everything was fine with God. As the converted Pharisee St. Paul would once say back to them, they thought that they were saved by their own works of the law, by their own external adhesion to the Mosaic law, and not by God, not by a faith-filled living relationship with God.
  • When Jesus calls us to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees, he’s not fundamentally calling us to memorize surpass them in memorizing the New Testament along with the Old, in praying four times a day instead of three, in fasting three times a week instead of two, in giving twenty percent of all we have back to God instead of ten. He’s calling us to interiorize the law. He’s calling us to allow the Word of God to become enfleshed within. He’s summoning us to permit God to give us a new heart, to place his law within us. And that’s precisely the Work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Today Jesus gives us two applications of what this looks like, what the Holy Spirit seeks to do in us. The first is with regard to the fifth commandment. The Lord says, “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.” It’s not enough merely not to kill others. He doesn’t want us to insult them. He doesn’t want us to hate them. In fact he wants us to love them. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we can learn to love those whom others would be tempted even to murder, to love those who make us angry, to love those who are fools. One of the concrete fruits of his presence, as St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians, is love. And that’s the type of offering God wants us to give him when we come to worship him, something that the Holy Spirit helps us to do.
  • That’s what we see in the second part of today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “Therefore,” linking both parts and this is key for us to grasp as we come here today to pray the Mass. He says, “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.” The type of offering God wants from us, that the Holy Spirit seeks to help us to make, is the offering of love, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of kindness, toward his beloved sons and daughters who are our blood or spiritual brothers and sisters. If this is lacking, he says, our offering to God is in vain. We can’t come to receive the gift God wants to give us if we’ve closed our hearts to the way he wants us to live. We can’t receive the Holy Spirit in our worship if we refuse to live by the Holy Spirit with regard to others. Ultimately the offering God calls us to make when we come before him is our “logike latreia” (Rom 12:2), the only worship that makes sense, our bodies, our entire lives, as a holy and acceptable oblation. It’s to put ourselves at God’s total service. And if we refuse to reconcile, then we are not at God’s service. If we’re not loving our neighbor, we’re really not loving God, who called us when at last he came to love one another as he has loved us. This was what the Scribes and Pharisees refused to do. They condescendingly disdained their neighbor who didn’t live as outwardly righteous lives as they did. They disparaged the Gentiles as if their entire bodies were meant just to be fuel for the fires of Gehenna. That’s why for many of them their worship was in vain because they refused to allow God to transform them into his loving, merciful image and likeness.
  • The Holy Spirit is the one who wants to help us to forgive those who have hurt us and to approach for forgiveness those we have wounded. He’s been sent among us, as priest pray in the formula of absolution, for the forgiveness of sins. He wants to help us to receive and lavishly share that mercy. The Holy Spirit’s gift of reverence is precisely what helps us to see in the other not a “fool” no matter how foolish his or her actions, but an image of God, a son or daughter of God, someone infinitely loved by God. And when we live by that gift, everything in our interaction with others changes. As we come here today to present ourselves before the altar of God, the Holy Spirit — who teaches us how to pray because we don’t know how to pray as we ought — strengthens us to make this commitment to love our neighbor with the same love with which Jesus loves us here. Pope Francis was very clear in his homily this morning in the Vatican. Jesus tells us, he said, that “one cannot talk to the Father if one cannot even speak to one’s brother – and this means overcoming the holier-than-thou attitude of the scribes and the Pharisees. This program is not easy, is it?” He replies, “But this is the way that Jesus tells us to keep going. Let us ask Him for the grace to move forward in peace among ourselves,” and that grace is God himself, God the Holy Spirit.
  • I’d like to make one other point based on these lessons. Overcoming our tendency to judge our brother, to hate him, to refuse forgiveness, to insult him, isn’t easy. It’s a persevering challenge. The Holy Spirit has the power to change us totally on a dime if we give him permission, but normally he heals us gradually so that he can strengthen our will in the process. We see a sign of this in today’s first reading. After a year long drought and famine, Elijah prophecies to King Ahab, whose prophets of Ba’al he just annihilated, ” God up, eat and drink, for their is the sound of heaven rain.” That was an act of pure faith that the rain of God was coming. Elijah climbed to the top of Mt. Carmel to pray. He sent his servant a young boy to “climb up and look out to sea” for any sign of rain. The young man climbed up and looked and saw totally blue skies. He asked him to go a second time. Then a third. Then a fourth, fifth and sixth. Finally on the seventh time, the boy returned reporting to Elijah, “There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.” And soon thereafter “the sky grew dark with clouds and wind and a heavy rain fell.” Many times God the Holy Spirit treats us the way Elijah treated his faithful servant. He promises us the rain of his grace. But he makes us wait for it, to go up and seek it, to trust that it will come, to believe in it even if all we’ve receive is a very small handful. But we need to persevere in the seeking, because it’s in that seeking that we’re transformed, that part of our healing is accomplished. 
  • For us as daily Mass goers, we come here every day with our prayers, to hear the Word of God, to be in the presence of the Word made flesh, to receive Him within. It may not seem that our lives are changing for the better, that we still hold grudges against our neighbor, that we still judge, that we still make excuses as to why it’s silly to seek reconciliation. But God the Holy Spirit tells us, “There is the sound of a heavy rain.” If we keep coming here seeking his help, if we keep battling to correspond, we will see more than a helping hand. He will strengthen us to put these words into practice and allow God’s word to take flesh in us just as the Word becomes flesh on this altar and enters into our lives.
  • So let us thank the Holy Spirit for this gift as we come to present ourselves before the altar. And let us ask him for all the help he knows we need to have our righteousness, our holiness, be truly pleasing to God and an image of him in the midst of the world that he calls to join him not on Mt. Carmel but in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 18:41-46

Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink,
for there is the sound of a heavy rain.”
So Ahab went up to eat and drink,
while Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel,
crouched down to the earth,
and put his head between his knees.
“Climb up and look out to sea,” he directed his servant,
who went up and looked, but reported, “There is nothing.”
Seven times he said, “Go, look again!”
And the seventh time the youth reported,
“There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.”
Elijah said, “Go and say to Ahab,
‘Harness up and leave the mountain before the rain stops you.’”
In a trice the sky grew dark with clouds and wind,
and a heavy rain fell.
Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel.
But the hand of the LORD was on Elijah,
who girded up his clothing and ran before Ahab
as far as the approaches to Jezreel.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 65:10, 11, 12-13

R. (2a) It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
R. It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
Thus have you prepared the land:
drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
R. It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.
You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
R. It is right to praise you in Zion, O God.

MT 5:20-26

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 with him.
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.”