06 March, 2020. Friday of Week 1 of Lent

1st Reading: Ezekiel 18:21-28

Personal responsibility, instead of shared guilt

The Lord says, “If the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?
“But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
“When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.”

Responsorial: from Psalm 130

Response: If you O Lord should mark our guilt, who would survive?

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading.
If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.
My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.
Because with the Lord
there is mercy and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity.

Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26

True justice goes deeper than simply keeping a set of laws

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
May your words, O Lord be on my lips, and in my heart. May they guide me on life’s journey and keep me near to you.

Consistency in doing what is right

Ezekiel calls on his people to persevere in doing good and not slide back into wrongdoing. According to Jesus the discernment of good and evil happens deep within our hearts. Over and above just keeping the law, we must actively seek to do some positive good.
More than just avoiding wrongdoing, like thievery, violence or slander, we are required to positively do good, and build up loving relationships. It is important to mend our fences, socially, before we can properly relate to God. Before offering sacrifice, Jesus says , “Go first and be reconciled to your brother or sister.” Peacemaking first, then worship.
Reconciliation begins in the heart, when we want to heal the offence we have caused. With that intention, we can in good conscience join in the Eucharist. Linked to this is Ezekiel’s message about consistency in doing what is right, for “If the virtuous person turns from the path of virtue to do evil… has broken faith and committed sin.”
Can we really rise to this ideal of consistently doing the right thing? Only if God gives us a new heart and… puts his own spirit within us (Ezek 36:26-27). Ezekiel says that whatever we have done in the past, God will renew us if we turn back to him. He imagines God saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… Return to me and live!”

Invited to go further

The Gospel asks for a deeper virtue than merely avoiding lawbreaking. The Old Law said, “You shall not kill.” But Jesus goes beyond, to banish the sort of attitudes that lead people to injure each other. He wants to heal our underlying passions. For this, we need renewal of our personality, a true “conversion” of heart and mind. We need the Holy Spirit to transform our outlook. This is well expressed in the traditional prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.” During Lent we call on the Holy Spirit to stir up in us the sort of love that was lived by Jesus and that is expected from all the children of God.

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