Friday of the First Week in Lent
(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26)
At the beginning of “Paradise Lost” John Milton claims his intent is to “justify the ways of God to men.” He is needed after reading the passage from Ezekiel which says that God might condemn a person after making just one false move. As school children will ask, would a man really be damned to hell after failing to attend mass one Sunday morning and then being hit by a dump truck on the way to the store to buy ice cream?
O.k., the example is frivolous, but the question remains crucial. How can it be said that a person might not be judged on the totality of her actions but for one malicious deed? As always, the best way to address the issue is to defer to Jesus. Today’s gospel is taken from his Sermon on the Mount where he presents his New Law or righteousness. He says that people will not be judged so much on their outer actions as on their heart’s intentions. A man may bow before another not out of esteem but in deception. His action will be judged as wanting. A woman may say nice things to another one day and gossip about the person the next. Her words will convict her of duplicity.
In any case we need to be slow about judging others. The human heart is often so twisted by life’s contingencies that it does not know what it desires. And then there is God’s overwhelming mercy! We pray that everyone will be saved as we try to purify our own intentions. In these ways we trust that God will not condemn us.