9th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)
Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32
Psalm 31:1-2, 16, 24
Romans 3:21-25, 28
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Obedience of
Faith in the Old and New Covenants
Under the Old Covenant, the Law was a tutor and a guide on the path to salvation for those who expressed their love for the God of Israel in observing the whole of the Law. But in the New Covenant, redemption and justification is by faith rather than by strict observance of the rituals of the old Law. There is no contradiction because faith like love is expressed in a total surrender of self to God in both the Old and New Covenants; as St. Paul explained: Love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom 3:10).
In the First Reading, Moses makes an appeal to the children of Israel for covenant loyalty based on the covenant document of the Ten Commandments. He repeats his main theme that loyalty to Yahweh's covenant provides the conditions for life and prosperity, telling the covenant people to bind the words of the Law even to the bodies as a sign of their obedience. Moses tells the children of Israel that God has offered them two choices concerning their future in the Promised Land. He has offered them a future full of God's blessings if they remind faithful to the covenant and obedient to the entirety of God's Law, or a future filled with divine judgment and disaster if they fail in their covenant obligations.
In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist begins with a profession of reliance on Yahweh for his deliverance. He calls on those with wavering faith to love God and to place their faith and hopes in Him. In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes that in the Messianic Age the former period of divine wrath gives way to the period of divine grace in which believers are justified and delivered through the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount by warning about hypocrisy as opposed to expressing one's genuine love for God in the obedience of faith. In the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, we also have covenant obligations. As in the Sinai Covenant, we receive blessings based on covenant blessings for obedience and covenant judgments for covenant failures. We have the obligation to live in obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ that He entrusts to His Church. We also have the obligation as baptized believers in the Body of Christ to spread the Gospel message of salvation and to live as an example of moral and spiritual righteousness. We are bound by the New Covenant law of love that is summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is our path to life, but our blessing and judgments are not like the temporal blessings and judgments of the Old Covenant. Our blessings and judgments are eternal.
The First Reading Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32 ~ Obeying
the Commandments of God is the Path to Life
Moses told the people: 18 "Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead."
26 "I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: 27 a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today; 28 a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today, to follow other gods, whom you have not known. 32 Be careful to observe all the statutes and decrees that I set before you today."
Chapter 11:1-32 concludes the second of Moses' last three homilies that he gave to the covenant people on the Plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River as they prepared to take possession of the Promised Land. He concludes this homily with an appeal for covenant loyalty based on the covenant documents of the Decalogue (chapters 5-10). He repeats his main theme that loyalty to Yahweh's covenant provides the conditions for life and prosperity.
Deuteronomy 11:18 ~ "Take these words of mine into your
heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant
on your forehead."
Verse 18 is a repeat of the commands concerning the wearing of tefilin/teffilin and the posting of mezuzot on doorposts given in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. Tefilin (plural) were little boxes containing the profession of faith from Scripture known as the Shema (Ex 13:9; 13:16, Dt 6:8 and 11:18). They were tied on one's forehead and on one's arm during the hours of prayer. Only men wore them. Right-handed men wore the tefila (singular) on the left hand, while left-handed men wore it on the right hand. The purpose is a constant reminder of the necessity of obedience to the Law.
Deuteronomy 11:26-32 ~ Moses said: "I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: 27 a blessing for obeying the commandments of
the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today; 28 a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your
God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today, to follow other gods,
whom you have not known. 32 Be
careful to observe all the statutes and decrees that I set before you today."
This section is a summing up of the preamble to the laws from Deuteronomy 5:1-11:28 and also serve as an introduction to the Deuteronomic Code, one of three law codes in the Pentateuch.
The promises for covenant obedience and the warnings of punishments for disobedience are predominantly addressed to the people in the plural "you," stressing the communal responsibility of Israel as people in covenant with Yahweh. In these verses, Moses has essentially offered the Israelites two choices concerning their future in the Promised Land. He has offered them a future full of God's blessings if they remind faithful to the covenant and obedient to the entirety of God's Law, or a future filled with divine judgment and disaster if they fail in their covenant obligations.
In the New Covenant in Christ, we also have covenant obligations the fulfillment of which are based on covenant blessings for obedience (Mt 5:3-12; 25:31-40) and covenant judgments for covenant failures (Mt 25:41-46). We have the obligation to live in obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ that He entrusted to His Church (Mt 16:19-20; 19:18; Jn 20:22-23). We have the obligation, as baptized believers in the Body of Christ, to spread the Gospel message of salvation (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) and to live as an example of moral and spiritual righteousness. We are bound by the New Covenant law of love that is summed up in love of God and love of neighbor (Mt 22:36-40). It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is our path to life, but our blessing and judgments are not like the temporal blessings and judgments of the Old Covenant. Our blessings and judgments are eternal (Mt 13:36-43; CCC 678, 679, 1821).
Responsorial Psalm 31:1-2, 16, 24 ~ God is our Deliverer
The response is: "Lord, be my rock of safety."
1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. 2 In your justice rescue me, incline your ear to me, make haste to deliver me!
2b Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety. You are my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake you will lead and guide me.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness. 24 Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the LORD.
In verses 1-2, the psalmist begins with a profession of reliance on Yahweh for the psalmist's deliverance. The psalmist uses the familiar metaphors of "rock," "stronghold," and "fortress" for God to express his trust and faith in Yahweh's divine providence to lead and guide the psalmist through life (verse 2b).
In verse 16, the psalmist asks God to savw him by divine grace and covenant love ("kindness" is the Hebrew word hesed which is better translation "faithful covenant love"). In verse 24, he calls on those with wavering faith to love God and to place their faith and hopes in Him.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the psalmist's hope and faith in
God's divine plan to guide our lives. He is our refuge and our fortress. It
is Jesus who has built His house upon the "Rock." In Jesus' parable in Matthew 7:21-28, the man in the parable is Jesus, the rock is the Apostle Simon who
Jesus renamed Kepha/Peter (meaning "rock" in Aramaic/Greek), and the house is
It is the Church that is our fortress and stronghold against the evil that is in the world, and it is the Church that guides us on our path to salvation in Christ Jesus.
The Second Reading Romans 3:21-25, 28 ~ Justification by
21 Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 23 For there is no distinction, all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption of Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as an expiation through faith, by his blood.
28 For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
In St. Paul's letter to the Romans, his "Now" in verse 21 marks a transition in Salvation History which moves beyond the Law and the promises of the Prophets into the Messianic Age of the New Covenant. It is in the Messianic Age that the former period of divine wrath (1:18ff) gives way to the period of divine grace in which believers are justified through the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From Romans 3:1 to 31, Paul uses the verb and noun which we translate the verb or noun which we translate as righteous/ righteousness or as justify/justification/justice (in Greek = dikaios/dikaiosune) is used by Paul 12 times (3:4, 5, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26 = 3 times, 28, 30).
In Romans 3:21, St. Paul writes that God's righteousness was previously revealed in the Old Covenant Law and by the Prophets, but in this new age, His saving justice or righteousness is revealed through faith in Jesus. Faith is a gift of God's grace in cooperation with a human act. It is a supernatural virtue infused by God to the one who accepts the gift. In exercising faith, the "human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace" (see CCC# 153-155).
Even though all have sinned and therefore deserve to forfeit experiencing God's glory (verse 23), God justified mankind by His grace through the saving work of Jesus' sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and the shedding of His precious blood (see 3:24). St. Paul uses the Greek word charis (grace) to indicate a gift given freely and unearned. This free gift is the sense in which the Greek word is most often used in the New Testament. It is used this way especially in Paul's letters where the word charis is employed to describe the way in which God the Father offers the gift of salvation through Jesus the Son:
|Jesus' Incarnation was an act of grace.||Jn 1:14, 17; 2 Cor 8:9; Tit 2:11|
|Jesus self-sacrificial death was an act of divine grace; a gift of the Father.||Rom 8:32; 1 Cor 2:12; Eph 1:6ff; Heb 2:9|
|Through grace, we are justified, receive salvation, and the right to eternal life without the works of the Old Covenant Law.||Rom 3:24; 4:4ff; Eph 2:5,8; Tit 3:7; Acts 15:11|
|Jesus' Second Advent will be an act of grace, and it will be an act of grace when we receive everlasting glory.||2 Thes 1:12; 1 Pt 1:13|
It is also possible to receive grace "in vain" (2 Cor 6:1), to "fall from grace" (Gal 5:4); to forfeit grace and insult the "Spirit of grace" (Heb 12:15; 10:29). Above all grace must be carefully guarded: it must be applied wisely to one's life, and it is necessary for grace to increase. We must continually grow in grace on our faith journey for divine grace to strengthen us and help us obtain our goal (Rom 5:2; Heb 12:28; 1 Pt 4:10; 5:12; Acts 13:43; 14:26; 2 Pt 3:18; 2 Tim 2:1; Heb 13:9).
In Romans 3:25, St. Paul explains that it is Jesus Christ whom God set forth as an expiation through faith, by his blood. To "set forth" means God destined Christ to become the sacrifice that would free man from his sins by paying the price that a sinful humanity deserved to pay which is the penalty of death. It is a penalty Jesus paid on our behalf when He died in our place on the altar of the Cross. A synonym for "expiation" is "atonement." The Catholic Dictionary defines "expiation" as: "Atonement for some wrongdoing. It implies an attempt to undo the wrong that one has done, by suffering a penalty, by performing some penance, or by making reparation or redress. (Etym. Latin ex-, full = piare, to propitiate: expiare, to atone for fully)."
Jesus fulfilled God's requirement for justice by His atonement or expiation for our sins. Paul says that it was "by the shedding of his blood" that we were justified. St. Paul will expand on this teaching in his letter to the Philippians where he writes: He has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law, which stood against us, he has destroyed it by nailing it to the cross; and he has stripped the sovereignties and the ruling forces, and paraded them behind him in his triumphal procession (Phil 2:14-15).
But why was the shedding of Jesus' blood necessary for our justification? Because it was the plan God had set in motion, as St. Peter wrote, from "before the world was made" and from before the fall of our first parents (see Gen 9:4; Lev 17:10-12; Heb 9:7, 22; Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20; 24:25-27; Jn 6:51-58; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:24-32; 15:3; and 1 Pt 1:20):
This is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ that is the inheritance of the New Israel, the Universal (Catholic) Church.
In Romans 3:28, St. Paul writes that we are justified by faith and not by works: For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. There is no contradiction with what Paul wrote in Romans 2:6-7 and 13 in which Paul connects justification and eternal life to good works. First of al,l in Romans 2:28, St. Paul is not referring to the works of God in acts of love and charity through the lives of redeemed believers. Instead, he is referring to works of the Old Covenant in obedience to the Law of Moses which was made to bring the people of God to a holy and righteous state. However, this state of holiness was imperfect in that the old Law could not offer the grace of the Holy Spirit or the gift of eternal salvation. Old Covenant righteousness failed if faith didn't transform the law written on stone to the law lived out in faith through transformed and circumcised hearts. St. James makes this distinction clear where he says that faith without works is "dead faith" which is the same faith as demons who acknowledge Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 8:28-29; Mk 3:11), and we are NOT saved by "faith alone" (Jm 2:14-26). James concludes his teaching by writing: See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (Jm 2:26; underlining added; this is the only place is the Bible where "faith alone" is found).
St. Paul is emphasizing that the interior law is built on faith and faith is the gift of God that leads to justification. This interior law is the exercise of faith that Paul is speaking of as the first step in a process; it is a process that continues in a life-long journey of salvation. It is faith that first justifies us in our initial justification through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ when God declares us to be righteous children reborn into the family of God through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism. As we journey through this life to eternity, it is from faith that the works of God, working through lives of faith, must flow to continue the process of our justification and the process of perfecting our faith. We Catholics see faith and works as inseparable, as two sides of the same coin both of which are necessary in our journey to salvation. This love in action is the work of God the Holy Spirit working through the circumcised hearts of believers who become a conduit of God's love expressed in acts of mercy and kindness to His suffering children in the world who are most in need of His love.
The Gospel of Matthew 7:21-27 ~ The True Disciple
and the Importance of Works and Faith
Jesus said: "21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.' 24 Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined."
Jesus returns to the theme of divine judgment in the last part of His Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' message in 7:21-23 concerns those hypocrites who only play at piety. On Judgment Day, the morally corrupt and false teachers will hear Jesus say: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers" (see Mt 25:31-45). In Scripture, "to know" someone refers to either intimate sexual knowledge or knowledge of God through a covenant family relationship. It is not that God/Jesus did not know that person who was a hypocrite existed, but that person did not live in obedience to the covenant union that he/she was invited to share in the life of Christ. Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is only for those who live in a state of grace in obediently do the will of the Father.
At the end our lives, each of us will face an Individual (also called the "Particular") Judgment (CCC 1021-22). At that time whether our lives were a success or a failure will be judged. We will stand before the great white judgment throne of God with Jesus ash our Advocate when we are judged on how we demonstrated our faith and love of Christ in our lives: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation" (CCC 1022). It is at the Last Judgment after Christ's return at the end of time that all mankind will be rewarded according to their works: Next I saw a large white throne and the One who was sitting on it. [...]. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds by what was written in the scrolls (Rev 20:11a, 12; also see CCC 1038-41; 1 Cor 3:12-15).
The next passage is the conclusion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 7:24-27 ~ The Contrast of the Two Foundations
Jesus said: "24 Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined."
In Matthew 7:15-23, the emphasis was on "saying" and "doing," but in verses 24-27 the emphasis is on "listening/hearing and doing." The true Christian is the one who listens to the words of Jesus and does what He says as in the prophecy God gave Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-19: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it. Jesus told his disciples: "The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from my hand" (Jn 10:27-28, New Jerusalem; also see Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35).
There is also another contrast; this time it is between the one who built his house on the rock as opposed to the one who built his house on the sand. The man who built on the rock is the one who listens to Jesus' words and does what He says (see 7:24). However, the fate of those who refuse to listen to the words of Jesus and therefore fail to do what the Messiah tells them is that they will be like one who built the foundation of his house on unstable sand, and the house collapsed.
The contrasts in this teaching:
|The Faithful Disciple||The False Disciple|
|Listens and hears = does the will of God||Does not listen = does not fulfill God's will|
|Builds on Rock which lasts forever||Builds on sand which collapses|
This parable is also a prophetic fulfillment of Jesus the "man" who built His "house" upon the "rock." Jesus' house is the Church, and the rock is St. Peter (see Mt 16:13-20 and Jn 1:42). Kepha is the Aramaic word for "rock" and the Greek word is petra, but is rendered petros if applied as a masculine name to yield in English the name "Peter," the appointed Vicar of Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
The Temple in Jerusalem was built upon the rock of El Shakrah (Arabic) or the eb(v)en s(sh)etiyah in Hebrew, the holy "rock of foundation" on Mt. Moriah upon which, according to Jewish tradition, the holy covenant name of God was engraved. However, the New Covenant Temple is the body of every believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells with the name of Christ engraved upon each Christian heart. And the Catholic Church, which is Body of Christ, is built upon the firm foundation of the rock that is Peter! "The Rock" is a title in the Old Testament used for God and for the pre-incarnate Christ, as St. Paul identifies the pre-incarnate Jesus as "the Rock" in the New Testament (i.e. see Dt 32:4; 15; 18; 30; 31; 1 Cor 10:4). In Matthew 6:16, along with His power and authority, Jesus gave the Apostle Simon His title "rock," Petros/Peter. He also gave Simon-Peter the keys of His kingdom like the Prime Ministers [Vicars] of the old Davidic kings (Is 22:20-22). They were "fathers" to the covenant people (Is 22:21) as Simon-Peter's successor, our Pope (Papa), is a "father" to Jesus' covenant people of His kingdom of the Church.
Catechism References: (* indicates Scripture is
quoted in the citation)
Romans 3:21-25 (CCC 1992); 3:21-22 (CCC 2543); 3:22 (CCC 1987); 3:23 (CCC 399*, 705, 2809); 2:25 (CCC 433, 1460*) Matthew 7:21-27 (CCC 1970*); 7:21 (CCC 443*, 1821*, 2611, 2826)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014