Friday of the First Week in Lent
(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26)
At first God’s judgment in the passage from Ezekiel today looks unfair. What justice is there if one person transgresses the law every the day of her life, changes her ways just before she dies, and then leaves the world in good standing while another always tries to do what is right, slips up before he dies, and finds himself in very hot water? But such a question defies human experience. Humans who sin become accustomed to acting as they do and find self-justifying reasons. If a man habitually masturbates, for example, he will likely say that the act is good for him because it makes him feel better. To repent of this sin, then, requires considerable effort.
On the other hand, the person who always does what is right becomes virtuous so that violating the principles by which she lives becomes unthinkable. That person hardly “slips up” but does what is wrong through a very conscious decision. For example, people who have given God His due every Sunday will usually find a church unless they have all along been attending mass just to be seen by others.
The “scribes and the Pharisees” are the ones in Matthew’s gospel whom Jesus criticizes as doing good for show and harboring pride in their hearts. Because he dispenses the Holy Spirit to his disciples, Jesus expects better behavior from us. Indeed, he enables us to develop virtue by doing what is right because it is right despite the difficulty involved. Once we do so, we do not have to worry about slipping up before we die. Virtue will be so ingrained that doing what is right will become as normal as breathing.