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Prudent, astute and simple

Matthew 7: 21-29

The good news which is given to us in this passage of the Gospel according to Matthew is the announcement that the Lord builds the house (cf. Ps 127:1), the announcement that his power and the efficacy of his word edify the community and the lives of those who accept it, since they have the power of opposing the energies of death that sometimes find habitation in both individual Christians and the Lord’s communities. Yes, those who accept the words of the Lord Jesus and put them into practice, those who have faith in them and accept them in a life of conversion will see emanating in their own lives energies of love and life, capable of overcoming those they experience as lethal forces which dwell within them and are stronger than them. But the Lord is the strongest of the strong (cf. Mt 12:29), he is the One who can overcome the power of evil that dwells within us (cf. Mt 15:19), the One who with his Spirit can change our stony hearts into hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek 36:25-26).

Jean-Francois Millet, “The Rock of Castel Vendon” (detail, 1848)

However the word of the Lord is not magic, since the Lord does not wish to dominate men but rather to be at their service, and this is also why his word does not bear fruit if it is not welcomed, that is, if it does not meet with freely-given consent on the part of those who hear it. The Lord does not want to make puppets of men in his power but rather to raise them to the dignity of his partners in a relationship of communion, of alliance, for he has created them in his image (cf. Gen 1:26-27). For this reason the acceptance of the Lord’s word demands a faith which is adherence with one’s whole self, with one’s body too, with one’s life and with one’s forces; in a word, it needs to be accepted with a journey of conversion, of the repudiation of idols, a journey to which the Lent we are living through assiduously invites us.

Nicholas Roerich, “Round Rocks” (detail, 1911)

And this journey too is presented to us by this Gospel passage not as a duty but as a “clever trick”, a form of wisdom, of being astute or “wise” (cf. v. 24), a way of knowing where the path of life lies and taking it, abandoning the deathly paths that we might have followed. In the Gospels Jesus frequently returns to this concept: Christian life is a life that invites us to be cunning, it is a question of being shrewd, intelligent, taking and following the way of life, since Jesus confesses that he came for this reason (cf. Jn 10:10). Disciples will thus need to be prudent, to be as wise as serpents and at the same time as innocent as doves (cf. Mt 10:16), it will be a question of using the goods of this world in such a way that they lead us to life and not to ruin (cf. Lk 16:8-9), and of learning to live this time of awaiting the glorious coming of the Lord in such a way that does not leave us to find ourselves unprepared at his coming (cf. Mt 25:1-13). And the sign of the fidelity of a disciple and of a Christian community is their perseverance in love, in charity (cf. Mt 24:12).

This is the fruit by which the tree is known (cf. Mt 7:15-20; 12:33-37), and not a seeming religiosity, cloaked in would-be devotion (“Lord, Lord!”, v. 22). No, it is neither the apparent confessions of faith nor miracles, Jesus tells us, which can authenticate the life of a true disciple (cf. v. 22), for on the day of judgement there will even be many who in their lives worked many mighty works in the Lord’s name, but to whom he will say: “I never knew you” (cf. vv. 22-23). We must give no credit either to forms of religiosity made of up of many words (cf. Mt 6:7-8) or to the search for great signs (cf. Mt 16:1-4) since the coming of the kingdom of God happens in the weakness of the Crucified One (cf. Mt 12:38-40) and in obedient listening, in what John calls “continuing” in his word, a way of living, of abiding without letting ourselves be moved (cf. Jn 8:31): “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples”.

It is up to us to accept or to reject this glad announcement.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 29, 2020