9th Sunday OTA

Deut 11:18, 26-28;            Rom 3:21-25,28     Mt 7:21-27

You may have heard about the woman who inserted an ad in the classified section of the paper: “Husband Wanted!” She received 200 letters answering her add. All said the same thing: “You can have mine.” Building a successful marriage, like building a healthy body is hard work. How about building a successful life? Where would you look for guidance? In today’s gospel Jesus gives us the guidance: build your life on the strong foundation of God’s words.

Some years ago, a young man applied to teach religion in a Catholic high school in India. When the principal asked him if he were a practicing Catholic, he replied: “No. I am a Hindu, but I know Catholic teaching thoroughly. I went to Catholic schools all my life. I’d gladly take a test to prove my competence.” The principal explained to the young man that the heart of Catholicism lay not in knowing Catholic teachings but in living a faith-filled Catholic life.

Yes. Un-practical religion is un-scriptural religion. Those who mouth the word of God without living it will not enter the kingdom. We can’t talk our way to heaven. Those admitted into heaven are not those who shout, ‘Lord, Lord’, but “those who do the will of my Father” (Mt 7:21). Our faith in God’s Word has to take on flesh in practice. Faith without works is a body without clothes, no warmth. Faith and practice are as inseparable as fire and heat.

The Word of God which is expressed in the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Christ, is like a signpost guiding us where and how to go. God tells us today through our first reading, “Let the words of mine remain in your heart and in your soul; they are a blessing if you obey them” (Deut 11:18).

Knowing the Word of God is alone not enough. There is a need to keep the balance between faith and action, between hearing the Word and doing it. Jesus once touched upon this balance when he said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” If we keep to this balance, we will not fall into legalism.

What is legalism? It is not simply the keeping of the laws. It is the keeping of the laws based on the false belief that salvation comes through the keeping of the laws. As St. Paul asserts, salvation comes not from the mere observance of the laws, but, “through the free gift of God’s grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).

Therefore I can’t say, “I don’t eat meat on Friday; I don’t miss Sunday Mass; I keep all the laws of the church. God therefore must be pleased with me and must save me.” This is equivalent to saying that one saves oneself and no savior is needed. But at the same time one must avoid the danger of concluding that faith in the Savior alone is enough and law does not matter and that it is alright to do one’s own thing. No. We must observe the divine law as well.

If we both believe in and live by the Word of God, we are laying an unshakeable foundation for our lives. Jesus said, “Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the wise person who built a house on a rock” (Mt 7:24). What does this ‘rock’ signify? It is the intimate union with God that results from both hearing and doing Jesus’ words. It is a relationship with God that is so deep that most events in life become meaningful. It is contemplation in action that allows a person to face crises directly, without being torn apart at the slightest confrontation.

Those who build their lives on the solid rock will not buy into the values promoted by the world, values that excite the nerves with sensual kicks but leave our hearts empty. On the contrary, their lives will be set so firmly on the values of Christ that no adversity will be able to destroy the fulfillment they find in Christ.

If our life is not built securely, we may not able to endure criticism and failure; we may not be able to survive the rain and the floods and the wind and the buffeting. However, If we are grounded in faith in Jesus we will be able to understand that our hardships are our participation in the sufferings of Christ, and we will be able to call on his strength for endurance.

We are called to discipleship, but the choice is ours. Will we choose a discipleship grounded in faith in Jesus, or will we rely on our own talent and determination to accomplish our tasks? Will we build the house on rock, or on sand? The choice is ours.