“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What prompted the man to ask this question? What was he hoping Jesus would say? Did his “going away sad” last for the rest of his life, or did he seek to discover the meaning behind the command of Jesus to sell all he had? Have you thought about what Jesus might answer you when you ask the question? It might involve giving what you have to the poor, but it also might mean removing some other barrier to God from your life. The answer to this question is couched in wisdom. Do you plead and pray for wisdom? Do you seek to allow the Word of God to be living and effective in your life? Remove whatever keeps you from knowing the will of God from your life. Follow Jesus.
It should not be surprising that as we come to the end of the Church year the readings too focus more on the end of time. We will hear from the Book of Daniel this week, and the gospels for this week also focus on how we need to prepare ourselves for the final judgment. The importance seen today is our inner disposition of faith and trust in God. Yesterday we had a miraculous example of trust from the widow. Today the invitation is to us.
When people approach the end, they search for meaning. Sometimes this meaning takes the form of a life review, such as can happen when someone dies. The end of centuries and millennia can give rise to predictions about the end of the world. This week will help us to prepare for the end of the world, and for the coming of Christ.
Why do we do the things that we do? Or maybe even more specifically, why do we do the things that we do in the name of religion? Over and over again Jesus reminds us that the external has limited or no power if it is not fed by the internal disposition of our hearts toward God. The tradition so important to the scribes and Pharisees have become meaningless because their hearts are not turn toward God. On the outside, they can seem to be doing very religious things. But on the inside, they are blind to the will of God’s presence.
We know the religion always faces such a temptation. There is a certain sense of pride and satisfaction when people can see us doing something good. We find that priests and bishops can look for those signs of privilege and prestige that can come because of their position. In the lives of all the baptized, there can be the temptation to focus on those easy external actions to perform, while missing the true goal of a relationship with Jesus which is real and authentic conversion.
Jesus reminds us of the spiritual life is not about being noticed for doing good things. Great saints remind us that prayer ceases to be authentic, it’s a desire and goal prayer is simply to feel better. The goal prayer, the importance of our relationship with God, is the degree to which our hearts are converted to living and acting like Jesus. We understand that this is no small challenge. Perhaps that is why people sometimes gravitate to the external at the expense of the internal conversion.
What was the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees like? Because, if our righteousness must surpass the Scribes and the Pharisees, shouldn’t we know what our goal should be? It seems that in many respects, the problem with the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees was that their righteousness could be described as external or superficial. Rather than the deep internal conversion, it seems they are focused more on the outside.
We are told in various other parts of the gospel they like places of honor. They like to perform works for people to see. They emphasize the easy parts of the law (like the washing of hands) at the expense of the more important laws like caring for the alien or the stranger. In fact, they seem to believe in their laws as the end in themselves, and not as a means to receive God’s salvation. They forget, for instance, that the Sabbath was made for us, and not the other way around.