Today’s readings point out to us the way from the root to the fruit. They show us how to grow interiorly so that we may enjoy the fruit of a life of obedient faith. If we want genuine spiritual fruit that surpasses the superficial “holiness” of the scribes and Pharisees, then we must develop deeper roots of righteousness. For Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In the Gospel, a continuation of his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a fuller understanding of the commandments, which he has come “not to abolish but to fulfill.” Then he goes on to explain how to make real progress, giving us a list of instructions using the pattern, “you have heard that it was said … but I say to you ….” He picks up on what has already been taught, for example the prohibition of murder, and then takes us to its root – in this case, anger. Evil roots bear bad fruit! Jesus challenges us to examine the motives behind our actions.
The law of God rightly directs us to avoid such grave sins as murder, adultery and lying – we must know that these are all bad fruit! But we do not fulfill the law merely by external observances, and not merely by avoiding sin. The fulfillment of the law calls for conversion of heart, for it is in the heart that the roots of virtue or vice are to be found. Thus, Jesus teaches us a way of reconciliation to overcome our violent reactions, a way of pure and faithful love to transform our adulterous hearts, and a way of straightforward honesty to counter our inner duplicity.
These teachings of Jesus are a treasury of wisdom! This is, as St. Paul says, wisdom for “those who are mature.” It is not the wisdom of this world, nor of the flesh. The world tells us to do whatever makes us feel fulfilled, even if it goes against the law of God. The flesh urges us to kill and to curse when we are angry, to use others and to pamper ourselves when we are lustful, and to lie whenever we want to avoid the consequences of the truth. But that is the foolishness of “the rulers of this age who are passing away.”
The wisdom of God is a mysterious and hidden wisdom – a wisdom so great that it would never have dawned on us without his help. What we ponder and celebrate today is that God has freely and abundantly bestowed this wisdom on us. “This God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” He has poured it into our hearts, so that we can now fulfill his law, not by external observances alone, but by joyfully and freely following the way of divine love. The Psalm celebrates the beatitude of all who treasure this gift in their hearts: “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”
Full of great wisdom, God gives us his precepts and commandments, to guide us in the way of a good and holy life. But he does not impose his will upon us. He gives us the space and freedom to make our own choices, even though we might choose sin. As today’s reading from Sirach says, “He has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
Like any good father, God our Father keeps watching over us, even when we make bad choices, to protect us as much as possible from our own folly, while always respecting our freedom. He is able to do this perfectly in every moment, for “Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing. The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed.” Nothing ever escapes the Lord’s notice. He patiently accompanies us through the ups and downs of our lives. Ever desiring to enlighten our ignorance and strengthen our choices for good so that we may bear ever-greater fruit, he sends us good people or puts us in favorable circumstances in order to show us the right way.
What can guide our motives and choices to direct us to the best result? The law of the Lord – his decrees, his commandments, his precepts, his statutes. The Psalm is a beautiful prayer of petition: “Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.” The law does not exist simply to restrict us, to corral us into an enslaved existence. Rather, it is for our good and for true freedom so that we can live rightly ordered lives and accomplish what we ought. Wisely keeping our hearts fixed on the goal of eternal life, let us apply ourselves to the roots of holiness, and make wise choices that produce good and lasting fruit for the Kingdom.
How is my spiritual life superficial? Am I diligently asking God to show me the root cause of my sins? Who are some of the people in my life that God sent to guide me on the right path?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.