Saturday, February 19, 2011

Righteousness Comes Through Faith

February 19, 2011
Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned about what was not yet seen, with reverence built an ark for the salvation of his household. Through this he condemned the world and inherited the righteousness that comes through faith. Hebrews 1:6-7

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. Mark 9:7-8

Father, set before me the path that leads to a right and close relationship with you. Jesus, help me to encounter situations in life that allow me to learn what you want me to do and how you want me to serve. Holy Spirit, send into my life those people who will give me the near occasion to put the love of the Lord into action today. Amen.

Our detour back to Genesis is now interrupted with a return – once again – to Hebrews. Today’s readings challenge the faith and action of the disciples just as they continue to challenge us.

St. Paul teaches us that we must believe not only that God exists but ALSO that the Lord is concerned about human conduct. Otherwise, why bother with Christian action? If God loves us and will save us regardless of our actions while alive, then we could do anything – good or bad, moral or immoral – and we could count on forgiveness and redemption.

Yet the covenant with Adam and Noah and Abraham and us is a two-way street. The Lord, we learn, will go to great lengths to bolster our faith and get to know us. Like talking out of a cloud and making Moses and Elijah appear to the disciples. But we must learn those lessons and apply them.

Today, we may not be given visions of the Jesus and the prophets transfigured before our very eyes. However, every morning we are greeted by a sunrise. And as we climb in bed, we are kissed goodnight with the setting sun and a sky filled with stars – stars that fill us with wonder at the expansive breath of God’s creation.

Each day we can walk with the Lord. He just happens now to look like our family members, co-workers, neighbors, the drunk passed out on the street corner, the beggar looking for a dollar, the waitress in the deli, the hotel maid who fixes your bed or the bus driver getting you around town.

Noah, through his action and obedience, “inherited the righteousness that comes through faith.” Righteousness is a concept that has some troubling connotations in modern society – usually akin to when we portray someone as “self-righteous.” In the letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul very likely means something completely different. Noah was not boasting that he was smarter than everyone else because he built the boat that saved so many. Instead, the use of the term “righteousness” here implies an external, not a self-driven, righteousness. It underlines the fact that a person's actions – in this case Noah and the others cited – are justified have been "judged" or "reckoned" as leading a life that is pleasing to God. Why? Because Noah focused on doing for others what his faith in God called him to do.

That is exactly the message delivered on the top of the mountain. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” If we want our actions to be considered right in the eyes of God, the source of our behavior must be rooted in being consistently obedient to his word in our work.