Jesus said in the Gospel: Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. From this, Jesus begins to enumerate that entry to the kingdom goes beyond what we avoid. It also goes beyond visible signs of piety. The scribes and Pharisees thought stringent literal observance of the Law is a sign they are in God’s favor. But Jesus is clear that faith goes beyond visible practice of the Law. It requires a conversion of the heart. Which is why Jesus said to be angry at someone is to be liable for judgment, to insult someone is subject to judgment and to call someone You fool is liable for the fires of hell. True faith in God is in the heart and not in blind observance of what the Law demands. The Law assumes the actions are the result of what is in the heart. But that is assuming the person doing the actions have the right intentions. This is what people often miss, that God wants a change of heart so the actions will conform to what the Law dictates.
The First Reading tells us if the wicked turns away from their sins and does what is lawful and right, they shall surely live. Life in God is in turning away from sin which makes us change our actions. The First Reading continues: have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? It is God’s will that everyone should live, including the wicked. God can forgive anyone when they repent.
However, the First Reading continues when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. While God will forgive sins, God also holds us responsible for our actions. Contrary to what many say, that there is a great possibility that everyone will go to heaven, this verse tells us that not everyone goes to heaven, not even those who think they are righteous. When we live a righteous life and turn to wickedness, all our good works count for nothing. We cannot buy our way to heaven. What gets us to heaven is holiness. It is turning away from wickedness and turning to God. Our hearts must be converted first before we can enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Psalm tells us If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it? But God needs to reveal our guilt so we can repent. We can ask God to reveal our guilt and as the Psalm says: there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. Our turning back to the Lord and God’s forgiveness glorifies God.
Lord, reveal my guilt so I may repent. Give me the grace to see your mercy. Let me not trust in my works. Let me not turn to treachery. Instead, let my heart be fixed on you.