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 seems unfair. Where is justice if one person transgresses the law every the day of her life, makes a death bed confession, and then leaves the world in peace while another always tries to do what is right, clicks the wrong Internet file, and then has a heart attack while viewing pornography? But such scenarios defy human experience. People who habitually sin find self-justifying reasons for their offenses and do not readily stop. A liar, for example, likely takes such pleasure in deceit that foregoing it requires considerable effort.
On the other hand, the righteous person has developed virtue which makes violating the principles by which she lives unthinkable. Such a person hardly “slips up” but will do wrong only after a conscious change of heart. For example, people who attend Mass every Sunday will usually find a church when they are on the road unless their reason all along has been to be seen by others.
The “scribes and the Pharisees” are the ones in Matthew’s gospel whom Jesus criticizes for 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, the Spirit moves us to develop virtue by prompting us to do what is right despite the difficulty involved. Once virtue is established, we do not have to worry about slipping up before we die. Performing righteous acts will then be as normal as breathing.