Jesus is highly critical of the Scribes and the Pharisees. But of what are these to groups guilty?
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees . . . (Matthew 5:20)
The scribes and Pharisees were experts in the ways of Judaism. They were expected not only to observe the Law but to teach it as well. And so Jesus’ words here sound intimidating, even impossible. How could we possibly surpass these devout, holy men? But Jesus meant that rigorous and exacting moral perfection isn’t possible, or enough. No one is made righteous by obeying every single commandment but by faith in Christ, who loves us and died for us.
It’s God’s grace that enables us to enter the kingdom of heaven. This grace doesn’t absolve us from the call to holiness, but it removes the impossible burden of attaining by our own efforts the righteousness that God wants. That righteousness goes beyond avoiding murder, adultery, and the rest. Jesus makes it clear that “murder” includes anger, for instance. But by grace, as by a gift, God has saved us and welcomed us into a relationship with himself that makes righteousness possible. Through faith in Jesus, we receive the grace we need to live a life that pleases him.
Remember too that God’s grace doesn’t end where your faith begins. By his grace, he promises to help you every step of the way. He helps you listen to him in prayer. He strengthens you to resist temptations and to persevere in life’s struggles. He softens your heart to say yes to him and to open yourself to the love he wants to give you. He changes your desires and renews your mind so that your life might testify to what is good, pleasing, and perfect in his sight (Romans 12:2).
Lent is all about grace. God knows that we will fall short of his righteousness—and even of our Lenten penances. That’s why Jesus endured his passion and death. If we could do it on our own, Christ died for nothing.
So hold onto the gift of grace! Remember that God is always ready to offer forgiveness and to help you begin anew. He will strengthen your will and soften your heart to receive his love—the love that gives us a righteousness we could never earn.
“Jesus, I need your grace. Help me to seek you with all my heart.”
Creator of my Life,
renew me: bring me to new life in you.
Touch me and make me feel whole again.
Help me to see your love
in the passion, death and resurrection of your son.
Help me to observe Lent
in a way that allows me to celebrate that love.
Prepare me for these weeks of Lent
as I feel both deep sorrow for my sins
and your undying love for me.
Today’s Gospel instructs us to reconcile and come to terms with those we have differences. Reflect, today, upon the person who comes to mind with whom you need to fully reconcile and rekindle a relationship of love. Pray for this grace, commit yourself to it and look for opportunities to do so. Do it without reserve and you will never regret your decision.