FIRST READING (Ezekiel 18:21-28)
Thus says the Lord: "If a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.
"Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
GOSPEL (Matthew 5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."
If, like me, you are around 60 years of age and have been a practising Christian for most of your life, you will have listened to at least 2,500 sermons. What experts we should be in things concerning the Christian Faith! For you as well as for me, however, just a few of those sermons remain in our minds and hearts as if we heard them yesterday. One such sermon bowled me over when I was just 15. It gave shape to my lifelong meditation on so many aspects of God's revelation. The preacher (a retired missionary from China) spoke at the youth fellowship one Sunday night and then preached in church - electrifyingly - about "the scarlet cord" which runs through Scripture, binding it together - the Blood of Jesus which atones for our sins and brings us new life, and in the light of which we should read the Old Testament. Imagine my surprise when recently browsing through Alice Linsley's blog Just Genesis (one of the most worthwhile blogs there is, packed full of orthodox scholarship which is at the same time challenging and devotional) and finding - as if it were a summary of sermon notes made on that Sunday back in 1967 - Alice's post The Scarlet Cord Woven Through the Bible. It is a fitting meditation for this Lenten Friday. I encourage you to go there, and - if you have time - to follow the links in the post, as well.
(Word of Life Community)
Patience and Impatience
(Mother Basilea Schlink)
FURTHERMORE . . .
To forgive does not mean to forget what has happened, but to shoulder the weight of another person's frailty or even another person's evil. St. Paul says, "Learn to carry one another's burdens." These burdens are often the failure of each of us to be worthy of our calling - our incapacity to love one another, to accept one another, to serve one another, to help one another on the way that leads to God. Let each of us pass a judgement on our whole soul, on our whole life, judge ourselves honestly, and ask forgiveness not only from God but from our neighbor, which is sometimes much harder than asking forgiveness from God.
We are all frail. We are all in need of support. Do we give this support to one another? Or do we choose those whom we want to support because we like them, because supporting them is a joy, because supporting them means that they also respond to us by gratitude, by friendship? Let us avoid seeking reasons not to forgive.
I remember a man who said to me, "I can forgive every person who has sinned against me, I can even love them, but I must hate the enemies of God." I thought of something which is told to us in the life of one of the saints, in which a priest was praying to God to punish those who betrayed Him by their lives if not by their words. And Christ appeared to him and said, "Never pray for the punishment or the rejection of any one. If there was only one sinner in the world, I would choose to be incarnate again, and again to die upon the cross for this only sinner."
Remember, if we do not forgive our brother, it is not only he who goes away with pain and tears in his heart, but we are wounded. If we do not forgive, we are ourselves not healed. The evil that occurred to us at the hands of another person remains with us, damaging our soul, destroying us.
Let us learn to forgive, so that others may be healed, but also that we may be healed ourselves. Come and bow down before the icon of Christ and of the Mother of God, and then turn to one another with the readiness to be forgiven and to forgive, whatever the cost to us.(Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh from a Forgiveness Vespers sermon given in 1999)
We beseech thee O Lord,
let our hearts be graciously enlightened
by thy holy radiance,
that we may serve thee without fear
in holiness and righteousness
all the days of our life;
that so we may escape the darkness of this world,
and by thy guidance
attain the land of eternal brightness;
through thy mercy O blessed Lord,
who dost live and govern all things,
world without end. Amen.
From the Sarum Breviary of 1085