daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 20th Week of the Year, August 22, 2015
Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11, 4:13-17, Ps. 127, Matt. 23:1-12

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.


"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice" (Matt. 23:2-3).

Here Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of hypocrisy. They are great preachers, so listen to what they say and put it into practice, but to not follow their example, because they themselves do not practice what they preach.

St. Paul, in the beginning of his letter to the Romans, also accuses the Jews of hypocrisy. They judge and condemn the sins of others but do the same things themselves that they condemn in others. "In passing judgment upon him [another person] you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things ... Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God" (Rom. 2:1, 3). St. Paul continues accusing the Jews of hypocrisy, saying, "But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed in the law, and are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness ... You then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?" (Rom. 2:17-19, 21-22).

St. Paul's conclusion is that all are sinners, not only the Gentiles but the Jews too who have God's law and preach to others to guide them are themselves sinners. In judging others for their sins, they condemn themselves when they do the same kind of things. Their judging and teaching others will not get them off the hook for doing themselves the same things that they condemn others for.

All of this is the buildup for St. Paul's main point, that we are all sinners, even the best of us, and none of us can stand as righteous before God on our own merits, works, and practices. We all fail the test before God - every one of us, teachers of morality as well as open Gentile sinners. No one is innocent. No one is without sin. We are all guilty sinners before God. Here is what St. Paul says, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one'" (Rom. 3:9-10 NKJV). The scribes and Pharisees also are sinners, as Jesus says today. So do not follow what they do, "for they preach, but do not practice" (Matt. 23:3).

This, then, is our condition. None of us can stand as righteous before God by our own merits. No one has been or ever will be able to justify himself before God by his own works according to God's law, even with God's help. The law only makes it clear just how sinful we really are in having failed to perfectly live up to it. Or, as St. Paul puts it, "No human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). Instead of justifying ourselves by following the law, the law condemns us for not having followed it.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us guilty before an all-just God. God himself then takes the next step. He manifests his justifying righteousness apart from the law. He himself clothes us in his own righteousness, in Christ's righteousness, a righteousness not our own. It comes to us through our faith in Christ, not through our practicing the law, not through any works of ours at all, but through his own righteous work on the cross, propitiating our sins by suffering and dying for them to make complete and just reparation for them.

Everyone has sinned. Everyone needs this righteousness of God. So because of what Christ did on the cross, God declares us now to be righteous by faith apart from any works on our part. This is a free gift. We are only justified by faith. As far as works go, we have already failed that test. So now Christ's work on the cross earns us justification as a free gift of God, given to all who accept it by believing in him and the power of his death to expiate our sins. Christ is the propitiation that God himself gives us through faith by the power of his blood poured out in reparation for our sins. All sins have finally been justly condemned and punished in his death, which thereby justifies us who believe.

So we poor sinners who have failed the test of the law, we hypocrites who preach the law to others, yet are sinners ourselves, now have hope and forgiveness. But we have more than forgiveness. We have justification, which not only forgives our sins but makes us righteous before God, despite our sinfulness.

All this is what St. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Romans. He says, "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed ... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith" (Rom. 3:21-25 NKJV).

So there you have it, the basic gospel message, the basic New Testament theology of salvation, in a few verses. These verses are regarded by many as the most important verses in the entire Bible. This is the essence of the good news, of the gospel that the Church is sent forth to preach to the ends of the earth, namely the free gift of justification by faith, not by works. To grasp this simple fact is to grasp the gospel, the Christian message, that is, we are justified by grace, by faith, apart from works. But how can this be? It can be because of the work of Christ on the cross that made reparation for our sins. Those who believe in him and accept his work are declared to be righteous, and are indeed made so. Through their faith, Christ's work of reparation on the cross is personally applied to them.

So for us who have not always perfectly practiced what we preach there is hope. If we humble ourselves and accept God's gift with faith, we are justified by his work, not by ours. Our task then is to humble ourselves before God, as did the sinful tax collector, unlike the proud Pharisee. He said, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" And Jesus' conclusion is: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:13-14).

But once justified and filled with Christ's own righteousness, we are made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), now enabled to do what we failed to do in the past, namely to keep God's law and live a holy life. Justification forgives our past sins and failures. So we do not need to think or worry about them any longer. That is now past. We are now liberated from our sinful past and made new men (Eph. 4:22-24), and so our present focus is to seek to live a faithful life, growing in holiness, following God's law, loving him with all our heart and soul, and serving our neighbor for the love of God.


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