by Father Caleb Buchanan
When we are immersed in serious fights and arguments with our friends, loved ones, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, fellow parishioners and enemies, we tend to cause a great deal of damage to ourselves and others by trying to prove that we are “right” in moments of conflict. When we get caught up in our biases, prejudices, judgments and self-absorbed concepts of what is right and correct, we are living and moving in the devastating web and spirituality of self-righteousness. As religious people, the price of not recognizing and addressing our constant need to allow the Holy Spirit to move our hearts from the ways of this self-righteousness to true Gospel righteousness can be the eternal loss of our place in the Kingdom.
In the first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, the Jewish people are being challenged about the devastating moral delusion of their self-righteousness which has in great part contributed to their exile to Babylon. This bitter exile was not only due to their sociopolitical deportation from their homeland, temple and religious practice, but was also due to their collective blindness to a grave separation from the Lord’s will. This separation was caused by their self-righteousness and unacknowledged sinfulness. Ezekiel is masterful in teaching how the self-righteousness of religious people leads to moral delusion, and then to social, religious and spiritual disaster. When people of good will, self-perceived pristine moral character and self-appropriated high moral standards are not checked, refined and pressed through the Lord’s genuine righteousness, they can be misled to ruin.
For example, they can assume that they’re able to render judgment against others. They can regard their own sins as automatically dismissed due to their self-regard as people marked with superior moral character and divine blessings of favor. They can become comfortable in anticipating how God’s judgment will fall against those they deem to be sinners.
Throughout the history of salvation, these moral and spiritual mindsets and blind spots can enable to us to wallow in an arrogance that presumes God’s salvation, despite our sins. The effects of nurturing these blind spots can lead us to a state of moral delusion. Hopefully, the Lord can lead us through this moral delusion and its destructive consequences. Through these traumas, like the exile of Ezekiel’s people, grace can enable us to discover painfully that we have placed ourselves so far away from God, the abundance of His blessings and where He wants us to be.
Ezekiel uses this moment to propose one of the Lord’s major solutions to this spirit of self-righteousness: repentance — that sacred process through which we take moral inventory of and responsibility for our self-righteous and sinful thoughts and acts; acknowledge these thoughts and acts, begging God’s forgiveness; and renouncing our right to remain in the mindset of unchallenged sinfulness.
For the Lord Jesus, this sacred repentance is essentially connected to obedience to the Will of the Heavenly Father. These two spiritual habits are inseparable in building the Kingdom of God and moving its citizens from the spirit of self-righteousness to holy righteousness.
We all can experience the joy of this kind of movement from the spirit of self-righteousness to holy righteousness in our lives. In Psalm 25, The Psalmist teaches us that the secrets of doing our part with God’s grace are found through remaining focused in our spiritual disciplines, consistent in moving forward on our spiritual path and content with the “faithful love,” law and Word of the Lord above the esteem, regard and self-righteousness of this world.
Live Jesus in our hearts forever![hr] Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
Philippians 2:1-11 or 2:1-5
Matthew 21: 28-32[hr] Father Caleb Buchanan is the parochial vicar of St. Martin de Porres, Bedford-Stuyvesant; coordinator of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, the diocesan West Indian and African-American Apostolates; and the chaplain of Medgar Evers College.