whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Welcome to the season of Pre-Lent, Septuagesima. This season is set apart as a time of reflective preparation for the upcoming Lenten season. We notice about us a penitential mood. The colors go to purple and rose. The Gloria is no longer proclaimed. The Alleluia is suppressed and is replaced by a Tract. The dismissal is “Let us bless the Lord.”

This time of preparation means we are to desire to turn to the reality of what life must be. It is the clearing away of the dust and cobwebs, the pushing out of darkness and confusion, and a realization that there is light, a way, a goodness that brings eternal life. It is a realization that life is not to be defined by what the crowds or noisemakers say, but by what Jesus defines.

Throughout this season we hear Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. In many of these teachings, Jesus draws comparisons saying: “You have heard that it was said… But I say” This helps us, in this season, to reflect on what we hear all the time, what we have heard in the past, and what we will likely hear in the future; that noise of the crowd, and to turn away from it to the clarity Jesus has given.

In preparing let us view what Jesus says through the lens Sirach focuses for us today: If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.

The noise of the age, the noise of the world past, present, and future cannot save us. That noise counts as nothing. Man’s interpretation is, at its essence, self-serving and meritless. Seek rather the music of Jesus, the beautiful call to live righteous lives. Jesus’ way is the clarity we really need. His direction is the way of life, teachings we can trust in, water for life, good, and life eternal. Now is the time to choose. Now is the time to stretch forth our hands to wipe the old away and to return to life. We must turn to Jesus’ way.

Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment, His right interpretation is for us. Yes, it is for us, to make us great in the kingdom! Now is the moment, now the time to turn to His definitions, now to follow His way without limit. Now.

How do you do
religion?

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Welcome to September, a time of change and transition. We move from the activities of summer to pumpkin everything, apple cider donuts, and crisper air.

Our scriptures today are about essential change. Moses starts out with a long dissertation about the new Law of God. The people were to observe it, were not to change it, and in honoring the Law, they would find themselves the envy of nations and peoples. In honoring, maintaining, and keeping the Law, the people of Israel would show a unique wisdom and a very special closeness to God.

It seems kind of obvious to us, at least at first glance. God gives us something remarkably special, and if we have any sense at all, we honor it and respect it. We would want to brag about it, ‘look at what God has done for me.’ We would follow the dictates of whatever God has given us. Who would hide what God had done for them? Who would ever want to go against God? To do so, we would show ourselves as the opposite of smart.

Similarly, St. Paul speaks of the great gifts we have received. He was the biggest bragger of all – look what we have, look what God has done and revealed. Let’s live it large: welcome the word, be doers of the word, don’t delude yourselves.

Jesus brings this all together. He chastises the Pharisees because they had let the Law become only a series of doing – not living. They not only did that, they didn’t evangelize God’s word. They kept it all locked up and just for them. Jesus said on other occasions that they: “shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” And in another: “you have taken away the key to knowledge. You have hindered those who were entering.” Not only were they failing to live God’s commands from the heart, going against them, they were hiding away His gifts.

Our call is to do religion right. Let us honor God with our lips and our worship – and from there do evangelization. Right religion means changed living – faith from the heart, showing God’s gifts, putting it all out there for the world to see. Tell the great gifts. Show them off. Listen to that little voice that prompts you to stop, turn, and invite.