Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday word, 26 Oct 2007

29th Friday (26 Oct 2007) Rm 7. 18-25a; Ps 119; Lk 12. 54-59
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Legal Limitation

Important to remember is that St. Paul had an experience of the risen Jesus as Lord. Paul, the persecutor of the church, was not neurotic nor was he romantic or had struggles with sex or the commandments. He makes remarks in his letters that dash those misreadings. Rather, he was realistic and had an untroubled conscience, especially because he fulfilled the commandments--indeed, the whole law of God.

One tenet of the law of God stated that anyone who was hanged on a tree was a sinner/1/. Crucifixion was being hanged on the wood of a tree. So Jesus was a not only a failed messiah, he was a sinner, and people knew his infractions of the commandments in God’s law. St. Paul’s earlier persecution of those misguided followers of Jesus as messiah defended God’s law.

When he experienced Jesus as Messiah and Lord, St. Paul was in a dilemma. Either God’s law was absolute and Jesus was a sham, or God’s law did not fully channel God’s power, and God worked powerfully in Jesus.

The result of grappling with his experience taught St. Paul, who once took delight in the
law of God as something not only worthy to defend as ultimate but claimed to give life, that it was not ultimate because God raised Jesus from death to life so superabundant that it gives eternal life to others. Paul could only offer God thankful praise through Jesus Christ our Lord.

His first-person language about the inability to secure right relationship with God was St. Paul’s way of inviting us to consider if we try to secure relationship with God by fulfilling requirements or by trusting God’s loving grace. Slavishly ful-filling requirements so easily holds us captive. We loathe to trust faithully God’s graciousness, yet, it is power. Law, even God’s, only points.

We can appreciate St. Paul’s distinction between God’s law and God’s power in Jesus this way. A doctor diagnoses in me a vicious disease and give me a prescription. Which will help me? Neither! Only the medicine is the power to help me heal. God’s law prescribes, points out sin./2/ The resurrection-life of Jesus is power to overcome it, reason for true delight and to thank God in Jesus through their Spirit, whose role St. Paul will address until October ends.

/1/ Deuteronomy 21. 23.
/2/ For this disease-diagnosis-prescription-medicine analogy, I am indebted to my teacher, Luke Timothy Johnson (his version is in Reading Romans, p. 111).
Wiki-image of manuscript page containing divine commands and blessings in the public domain.

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