“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). This passage always gives me pause. I know my weaknesses, my sinful habits. I know also my deep desire to turn away from those things and to walk humbly with my God. But habits are hard to break, that is, without the grace of God.
The fact of the matter is that we are all sometimes more like scribes and Pharisees than we would like to admit. We do set demands, our own kinds of “laws,” demanding that others fit into our own ego driven concepts of the way the world should be. And we are often guilty of occasionally getting caught not “practicing what we preach.” But each time we get caught, each time we realize that we are imposing our worldview on others, is an opportunity to grow, to turn away from our prides and to develop true humility before God and man. It is never easy, of course, but it is consistent with the nature that God gave us in making us in his own image and likeness.
Life is difficult, but we are not alone. Our growth in righteousness is often a matter of an attitude check. Our healing from sin “is not achieved by trying to escape or failing to acknowledge our faults. We are saved not by denying our failures but by looking at them honestly and acknowledging them” (Fr. Alfred Delp condemned to death by the Nazis in 1945). It is all too common for us to fall into the habits of error, or to resign ourselves to them due to the fatigue of constantly having to fight against them. But, through the habit of prayer, and through our developing personal relationship with Jesus, we grow more able to keep our focus on the God-given impulses of our nature, even when we fall on occasion. Sin distorts reality, or mucks it up. Only God can restore our health, by restoring us to the reality he made us in along with all of creation. He does this for us when we honestly look at and recognize our faults and, in our sorrow, turn to him for help.
We can not heal ourselves. We cannot dispense with our need for God’s aid. It is when we come to know God in his Holy Spirit, that we are able to accept our weaknesses, our limitations, and the worthlessness of sin. It is in our ever-deepening relationship with God that we find the way, the truth and the life that God is, and that he made us for, out of his unsurpassable love for us. It is in this relationship that we begin to grow in righteousness. It is in this relationship that we more clearly see the scribal and Pharisaical tendencies we have developed in our lives. It is this righteousness in God’s ways that we need to develop, with his grace, in order “to enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”
Lord, Teach us, in your Holy Spirit, to look with more honesty at our lives, so that we may discern more clearly those habits we have fallen into that distort your reality. Give us the courage to face them and to turn to you for healing and for your help in our growth in righteousness. We pray these things in the holy name of Jesus. Amen!
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