On the Gospel of Matthew 7:21-27
9th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sometimes we can feel very comfortable with the readings we hear at Mass. You imagine that the Prophets or the Apostles are only saying the words of wisdom that you have known all along. It feels as if what we are hearing is perfectly in tune with the way we are living, and proves that we have the right kind of foundations for the Christian life. Perhaps sometimes we can feel too comfortable.
Not this Sunday! This Gospel has a profoundly demanding word for all are trying to follow the way of Jesus Christ, and if it were misunderstood it could seem to be quite terrifying, though that is certainly not the Lord’s true intention, as we will see.
Our Lord, as he often did, was turning on its head the perceived idea of the time about what sort of prayer and what kind of life was pleasing to God. And simultaneously he pointed to the inward journey, to the heart, as what it was really about. We can picture clearly the sort of person Christ is referring to: praying with many words and seeming to be brimming over with zeal for their ‘Lord, Lord’; giving their lives over to many and varied ministries of ‘prophecy’ and ‘casting out demons’. This person would probably feel they were on their way to salvation, and their friends and co-workers would share in that high estimation of them.
And the worrying thing is that we probably recognise something of ourselves in this picture. If we do a really searching examination of conscience, it may reveal that we also have become entirely caught up in the external practices and formulas, and have started to believe that our salvation was going to result from all the great, holy deeds we were doing. Christ is calling us instead to really come to ‘know’ him – in the prayer of the humble, contrite heart, and in generous works of mercy – and to clear away from our spiritual lives that which is keeping him at a distance, and keeping him from giving us the grace to truly live in him.
The wonderful and liberating message of the Gospel reassures us that God never gives up on us: he patiently waits for us to come into his arms. It may not be a bad thing if this Sunday’s Gospel tells me a few home truths about myself, but it shouldn’t frighten us in any way. Jesus is speaking these words to encourage us and direct us, so that we build our lives on a ‘rock’ foundation ‘doing the will of the Father’, and he will then be able to say ‘I knew you’.