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YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS MUST EXCEED THAT OF THE PHARISEES
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Friday, January 04, 2013
1 John 3:7-10, Ps. 97, John 1:35-42


"Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9 NKJV).


Here we hear the call to perfection. Jesus himself told us as much: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). And moreover concerning the Pharisees, who were the most perfect observers of the law among all the Jews, he said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). And now we hear St. John giving us this same call to perfection in Christ. He says that he who is born anew and made a son of God does not sin: "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9 NKJV).


But how is it possible to be more perfect in the observance of the law, in righteousness according to the law, than the Pharisees, who were the most eminent of all the Jews for their righteousness according to the law, for their observance of the law? And more still, Jesus calls us not only to exceed the Pharisees, but to even be as righteous as God himself: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). How are we to do this? Here St. Paul helps us.


St. Paul says, I want to "be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:9). So we see that there is a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees, a righteousness greater than that of the law. It is not "a righteousness of my own based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil 3:9).


This righteousness of God, which is through faith in Christ, comes to us through the obedience of Christ in dying on the cross in perfect satisfaction and reparation for all our sins. This act of Christ makes us righteous with a perfect righteousness, the righteousness of Christ himself, the righteousness of God that is greater than that of the Pharisees. We receive this gift of righteousness through our faith in Christ, without any work of our own (Gal. 2:16). "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). This obedient act of Christ on the cross makes us righteous with the perfect righteousness of Christ himself, the righteousness of God, when we believe in Christ.


Because Christ suffered on the cross our punishment for our sins instead of us, we are freed from our sins when we believe in him, and we are made righteous with the very righteousness of Christ himself shining within us, illuminating us from within, for now he is risen and dwells in our hearts (Col. 1:27; John 14:23). Then our behavior should be congruent with this new righteousness of God that comes from Christ through faith.


In this way even a sinner who repents and believes will be more righteous than the Pharisees, who were the most righteous according to the law. We see this in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Concerning the repentant, believing sinner (the tax collector) Jesus says, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]" (Luke 18:14).

 

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