6 Mar 2011
“‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’” (Matt. 7:21) In the name …
Royalty does not impress me. If I had to pay any of my tax dollars so that some royal family could flit around the world, I would not be happy. But there are an awful lot of others who seem to like this stuff. That royal wedding over in England is getting a lot of attention worldwide. And in last week’s newspaper I saw an ad for the Royal Engagement Ring. The ad said it’s inspired by the ring that Charles gave to Diana and William gave to Kate. It further said that the ring offered for sale is quote, “A 3-carat beauty fit for a princess” Exclamation point. Now maybe I’ve had these royals all wrong. I thought they were a bit snobbish. But the newspaper ad said I can buy this stunning replica engagement ring for less than $100, and if I don’t have the whole $100 on hand, I can pay it off in three easy installments. Now that’s just plain reasonable. Maybe the royal family is finally getting more frugal with other people’s money.
But I think every one of us knows right from the start that this ring in the newspaper ad may look somewhat like the princess ring, but there’s no possible way it can be a real copy. The ad can call it a “superbly crafted masterpiece,” but what in the world are “diamonesse” stones and a 3-carat “synthetic” sapphire? No one is being fooled by the words nor by the pictures of a beautiful princess with a priceless ring on her finger.
The reason I bring this up this morning is because of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. He has reached the end of what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. With these words, Matthew is bringing the first major section of his Gospel to a close. And he wants to finish with a lasting, final thought, a message that those who hear these words will walk away with and remember. Recently, we’ve been reading a lot from the Sermon on the Mount. Some of the messages we’ve heard have been goals to aim toward in our conduct. Jesus has told us, for example, to turn the other cheek, to offer no resistance to one who is evil, to love even our enemies and to pray for those who would harm us, and to not worry about tomorrow, what we are to eat, or drink or wear. These are pretty hard to practice perfectly. They’re not impossible because Jesus showed us that they can be lived. But most of us are going to come up short. That’s when we have to make the decision to try harder to live like we are expected rather than to give up and say it’s impossible, or just say the words without really trying to live by them.
At Confirmation catechism the other night the kids had a test. One of them, Brandi, was on the Frontier school trip down to Washington with Mr. Smith. Her sister is in the same catechism class. I asked her to call Brandi on her cell phone and let me talk to her. I don’t know what the girl was doing at 6PM Wednesday night in Washington, but I told her she had five minutes to get back to South Deerfield to take this test. I’m not sure if Brandi figured-out completely that I was kidding her because she kept telling me she was in Washington, but the point is, there was no possible way she could have got to the church in five minutes to take the test. It was a physical impossibility. Jesus’ high expectations in the Sermon on the Mount are not the same. They are not physical impossibilities. But they sure are hard. They can’t be done easily, but they can be done. And done is the key word here.
And with this in mind Jesus closes with today’s words to us. It’s not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” to Jesus who gets what He’s all about. The words are easy: “Here Sharon I got you the Royal Engagement Ring just like the one Kate got from Willie.” But just like a hundred dollar knock-off is not going to fool my bride, neither are any of us down here on earth going to fool Jesus by just throwing around the words we think He wants to hear. So Jesus says instead that it is “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” who really gets the Christian message. It’s what we do that authenticates our faith and our character. The standards are set extremely high in the Sermon on the Mount, but Jesus closes with the admonition to try. Do the best that you can, and then try again. If you read this afternoon’s Parish Book Club selection, you know that Matthew as a devout Jewish-Christian is emphasizing that faith alone is not enough, that the words “Lord, Lord” are insufficient all by themselves, that faith has to be matched with works. It’s what we do that proves our faith in Jesus as Lord. No more knock-offs, no more imitations, no more words alone. What we do gives evidence that we really believe what we say. We won’t be perfect, but that’s not an excuse not to try to do better.
And just as Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount with the lasting impression of a message that words have to be backed-up by what we do or at least try to do, so we also close the season of Pre-Lent with those same words and that same message. This season gets us ready for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the 40 days when we can authenticate our words with our actions. It’s one thing to say we love God, that we appreciate the sacrifice of the cross. It is another to match those words with what we do during Lent. What will we give-up; what will we add? We have the opportunities of Mass, Lenten Devotions and the Lenten Discussion Series. How many of these events will find us in attendance? Wednesday’s ashes come from the palms once waved to cries of “Hosanna,” but which turned into shouts of “Crucify Him!” Words are cheap. What we do proves them and makes them authentic. $100 royal engagement rings don’t fool anyone, nor will unlived words prove any more reliable. Let us today close Pre-Lent and get ready for the sacred days that follow by remembering this basic lesson that faith is authenticated by its effects on the way we choose to live. So let’s go out and live as Christians should live. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo