Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday word, 25 Oct 2007

29th Thursday (25 Oct 2007) Rm 6. 19-23; Ps 1; Lk 12. 49-53
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
For the Sake of Our World

Thus far in his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul identified himself in his opening words as the slave of God./1/ Using an imaginary conversation partner to move forward his proclamation and earnestly advise the church at Rome, St. Paul emphasized: 1) sin is a real condition, which God, not humans, graciously overpowered by the death and resurrection of Jesus; 2) the faith of Jesus/2/ provides the pattern for those baptized into his new life; and 3) the grace of Jesus’ risen life transforms our freedom, empowering us to give our selves to life-giving, instead of death-dealing, allegiances.

St. Paul used language powerful in his day to describe allegiance--his word, obedience. It was his purpose: to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of [Jesus] name, among all the Gentiles/3/. It was slave-language, which doesn’t have the power for us as does allegiance. Powerful as it was--and if Paul were here and encouraged our allegiance--it did not correspond exactly to the mystery of God’s graciousness in Jesus for we heard him open today's selection, Brothers and sisters: I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your nature.

He only had human terms to communicate divine things, which empower and free us. He desired people to serve God because its effect, for sanctification. In that word we hear "sanctity" and "saint." They translate the Greek words St. Paul used, "holiness," "holy" and "holy one." Holy means set apart, different. Holiness defined God, who is set apart from all that is. Those who ally themselves with God are "in the world but not of it," to use a classic Catholic phrase, which we derive from Jesus’ prayer for us, his disciples./4/

Jews set themselves apart by not working one day a week--like the Creator--in a time when weekends did not exist. They made created things holy for their use by washings and blessings. They set aside corners of their fields and didn’t harvest them so that travelers and the poor could eat. They acted in their unusually different ways because of their allegiance to God. The practical effect of our allegiance to God is not difference for difference sake. We refuse to be of the world in order to allow the righteousness, which recreates us, to transform our world. You and I serve God for the sake of our world!
/1/ Chapter 1. 1.
/2/ Esp. Chapter 3. 22. It is almost always translated faith in Jesus. Greek grammar and context prove St. Paul meant Jesus, not as object, but as subject: faith of Jesus. I follow my teacher, Luke Timothy Johnson, who I find most credible (his Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary [which I use to navigate my way through this letter]. New York: Crossroad Herder Book, 1997, pp. 58-61).
Even more, my prayer and my struggle to live my baptism, point both to the wisdom of the phrase, the faith of Jesus, and to its encouraging and transforming power. Without Luke Johnson’s observation my prayer and my struggle would be impoverished.
/3/ Chapters 1. 5 and 16. 26. St. Paul opened and closed his letter with his apostolic purpose.
/4/ John 17 contains Jesus' prayer for his disciples.
Wiki-image in the public domain of 2d-Century Jewish Ritual Objects visibly emphasized holiness.

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