Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
Br. Reginald discusses that to learn to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters is to see our own dignity and theirs as temples of God’s own Spirit.
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
In the last few days we have been hearing from the Sermon on the Mount. Now the Sermon on the Mount has parallels with Moses giving the law to the people of Israel. So we take the Sermon on the Mount as the Lord Himself teaching us. In Isaiah 51 we hear the Lord, through the prophet, saying, “Listen to me, my people, for a teaching will go out for me and my justice for a light to the peoples.” So the Gospel we have just heard is part of God’s own teaching about his own justice, so that we might be a light to the peoples.
The Gospel starts with this quite scary call to be more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees. And yet, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says that no one should boast in the presence of God. So we have to think about this carefully. Christ Jesus himself has become for us our righteousness. That is why it is greater than the scribes and the Pharisees. In the first letter of St. John, he tells us, “Everyone who does what is right, is righteous, just as He is righteous.”
So again, turning to Isaiah 51, the Lord says: “To the people of Israel, listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, that seek the Lord, look to the rock from which you were hewn.” We know by faith that this rock is Christ himself. So before we dive into the message of today’s Gospel, we need to consider this rock from which we’ve been hewn, so we can look at the message with eyes of people who are redeemed by the Gospel.
Brothers and sisters, we are now not in the flesh, but in the spirit. This Spirit dwells in us and this Spirit is the same Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead. So together with all of our brothers and sisters, we are joint heirs with Christ, to the kingdom of God. In this light, we can look at our Gospel.
The root behind sinful anger, insult, and then murder is surely nothing else but to fail to see that they are temples of the Holy Spirit, that they are co-heirs with us.
St. Jerome writes, “who is our brother, but he who has the same father as ourselves?” In other words, he who has that same spirit by which we call “Abba Father.”
Saint Hilary says, “He who reproaches, with emptiness, one full of the Holy Spirit… will be punished for an affront against the Holy Spirit Himself.”
When we consider our brothers and sisters with eyes of the flesh, it is often easy to get angry at them, because they don’t see things the way that we see things. Yet, I think that true empathy comes when we are able to see that we have the same Spirit and that we are pursuing that same righteousness, which is Christ Himself. I think that today’s Gospel is a call to examine ourselves, because what we often mistake as righteous anger is pride, because we think we’re better than someone; is pettiness, because we cannot let go of something that’s been said or done; is presumption, that they should have known better.
I was speaking to a Carmelite brother this morning and he told me that, in many ways, the good news is hearing that we are in the image of God; but often hearing that others too are in the image of God can seem as bad news. But if we cannot see that everyone else, our brothers and sisters, are also in the image of God, then have we really understood our own dignity and calling? Let our consciences be our own accuser in this matter.
Christ tells us that, before going to the altar, if we see that we are in conflict with our brother, we should put our gift there, go and be reconciled. Now again, St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, tells us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” So, we are never separated from this altar of sacrifice, we are always called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. There is never a wrong time to be reconciled with your brother or sister. St. Paul continues, “be transformed by the renewal of mind.” I think that this renewal of mind is to see the truth about ourselves, and about our neighbours, that they are co-heirs with us, that they are our neighbours, that they are loved by God, and that they are filled with the Spirit. Again, St. Paul continues “discern what is the will of God,” that is to say, what is good, acceptable, and perfect. But what else is so good, so acceptable and so perfect as an offering to God, except that Love that forgave the people who crucified Him? and that Love who offered His life on the cross, while we were still at enmity with Him?
Now how much more particularly should the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacred banquet, be a mirror to us to examine our consciences? Because indeed Christ is received, we receive a memory of His passion, and our minds are filled with grace: we are renewed by the Holy Spirit. So, as we approach the Blessed Sacrament, let us examine our hearts, our consciences. If it is the case that our hearts condemn us, then we ought not despair, for as St. John says in his first epistle, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
St. Augustine, in reading this Gospel points out that there are three stages, there is the thought: the anger; then there is the word: insult; then there is the action: murder. We can actually reverse that, in how we can reconcile with our brother, if we examine our conscience, as we approach the Blessed Sacrament, and we realise that we are at enmity with our brother. The first point of that reconciliation is to draw a line in our own heart, to recognise our own dignity, the dignity of our brother and sister who we might have offended and to ask God to help to melt away the icy grip of the resentment and anger which is taking hold of our heart. Then we can approach our brother or our sister, filled with Christ’s love and obedience to His teaching in this Gospel. Prudence follows from this charity and humility.
I think that it is this examining of our hearts, praying for our brothers and sister, praying to be set free from our resentment, and seeing with eyes that are filled with the Truth of who we are, and who our brothers and sisters are, that is to know righteousness, and to listen to what God is telling us as His own justice.
Brothers and sisters, this is not a warning passage that should scare us with the fear of hell, but it is a gentle invitation to enter into the great mystery of God’s own justice and righteousness. Again, we have in Isaiah 51, “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, you people who have my teaching in your hearts, my deliverance will be forever and my salvation to all peoples.”