Jesus is our Judge

Readings: Deut. 11.10-32; Ps. 31; Rom. 3.21-28; & Mt. 7.21-27

The words of today's gospel can somewhat confusing and frightening. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven'." Jesus warns the crowd, "Many will say to me on that [judgment] day, 'Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Etc. And Jesus will answer solemnly, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers."

None of us wants to hear those words of condemnation from the mouth of Jesus. Look at us. We're up early for Mass every Sunday morning. And we do this week after week. We prayer daily. We do good deeds for people. We try to be generous to people in need. We sure hope that the Lord does not say to us, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers."

About whom is Jesus speaking? Scripture scholars report that Jesus is speaking about the primitive Christian community. In St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes love in chapter 13: "love is patient; love is kind; love is not jealous; love does not put on airs; love is never rude; love is not self-seeking. There are three things that last: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love." The very next chapter, 14, which is today's second reading, Paul speaks about other gifts, namely, speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, the gift of prophecy, and casting out demons. The apostle warns that these gifts can be misused; instead of building up the church and its membership, these gifts sometimes can alienate some people. These gifts can be misused to create a sense of an "in" crowd and an "out" crowd. These charismatic gifts are to be used to help people, not to discourage and divide people.

Scripture scholars write that Jesus is speaking about this experience of the primitive church. Jesus says in effect, "Just because you used my name, does not mean that you automatically acted with my spirit. Just because you cried out, "Lord, Lord" does not guarantee that you acted properly. He continues, "Who will enter the kingdom of heaven? Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Jesus looks at our heart and soul; he looks beyond our words and actions.

The first reading from Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Old Testament, instructs the Jewish people to write down God's words, and wear them as pendants on their foreheads and from their wrists. If you were to visit certain places where the Hasidic Jews live, e.g., Lakeland, New Jersey; or the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York; you would see hundreds of people wearing scapular-size pendants on their foreheads and off their wrists. But Yahweh says first, "Take these words into your heart and soul." The internalization of God's word is infinitely more important the externalization of symbols of God's word.

Both readings, OT and NT, emphasize internal relationship with God. This internal relationship matters more than external action. Do external actions matter at all? They sure do. Remember St. James writes in his second chapter, "Faith without works is dead." And Jesus says, "Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me." Actions matter, but what matters more is the motivation, inspiration, and spirit for why we do what we do.

Friends, don't be scared by Jesus' warning in this morning's gospel. Simply, be genuine. When you pray, use Jesus' name; make sure the prayer is from your heart and soul, as you utter, "Lord, Lord." Conclude every prayer with Jesus' prayer, "Father, not my will, but your will be done." Why? So that you seek God's will and not simply your will. And when you act, do it for the building up of the church, not for building up yourself.

And the best news is that Jesus is our Judge. Not the local gossip circle, not our neighbors, nor our families or friends, not the local parish priests. God sees the hearts and souls of people. Who will enter the kingdom of heaven? The person who "writes God's word in their hearts and souls." "The person who seeks to know and do the will of my Father in heaven."

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