Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:20-26
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 18:21-28
21 "But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live.23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. 25 "Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Meditation: Do you allow sin or anger to master your life? The first person to hate his brother was Cain. God warned Cain: 'Why are you angry? ..Sin in couching at the door; it's desire is for you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:6-7). Sin doesn't just happen; it first grows as a seed in one's heart. Unless it is mastered, by God's grace, it grows like a weed and chokes the life out of us. Jesus addressed the issue of keeping the commandments with his disciples. The scribes and Pharisees equated righteousness with satisfying the demands of the law. Jesus showed them how short they had come. Jesus points to the heart as the seat of desire, choice, and intention. Unless forbidden and evil desires are uprooted and cut-out, the heart will be poisoned and the body become a slave to sin and passion. Jesus illustrates his point with the example of the commandment to not kill. Murder first starts in the heart as the seed of forbidden anger that grows within until it springs into words and actions against one's brother or neighbor. This is a selfish anger that broods and is long-lived, that nurses a grudge and keeps wrath warm, and that refuses to die. Anger in the heart as well as anger in speech or action are equally forbidden. The Lord Jesus commands by grace - take away the anger in your heart and there will be no murder.
What is the antidote for overcoming anger and rage? Mercy, forbearance, and kindness spring from a heart full of love and forgiveness. God has forgiven us and he calls us to extend mercy and forgiveness towards those who cause us grief or harm. In the cross of Jesus we see the supreme example of love and the power for overcoming evil. Only God's love and grace can set our hearts and minds free from the tyranny of wounded pride and spiteful revenge. Do you harbor any anger towards another person? And are you quick to be reconciled when a rupture has been caused in your relationships? Ask God to set you free and to fill your heart and mind with his love and truth.
Eusebius, a 3rd century church father, offered the following prayer as instruction for his fellow Christians:
"May I be no man's enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest me: and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all men's happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me. When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends. May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent. May I reconcile friends who are angry with one another. May I never fail a friend who is in danger. When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain. May I respect myself. May I always keep tame that which rages within me. May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps."Do you seek to live peaceably and charitably with all?
"Lord Jesus, my heart is cold. Make it warm, compassionate, and forgiving towards all, even those who do me harm. May I only think and say what is pleasing to you and be of kind service to all I meet."
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
A Daily Quote for Lent: Are you ashamed to ask pardon? by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.
"How many there are who know that they have sinned against their brothers or sisters and yet are unwilling to say: 'Forgive me.' They were not ashamed to sin, but they are ashamed to ask pardon. They were not ashamed of their evil act, but they blush where humility is concerned." (excerpt from Sermon 211,4)
Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers.
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