13th Sunday of the Year C (27 Jun 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
In last Sunday’s bulletin I commented that torah, often translated as law, was perceived as much more by the people of the covenant. Torah was God’s covenant, God’s revelation and God’s wisdom. For Israel all those meanings operated at once. To hear the book of the covenant; to see it processed in the synagogue from its throne; to ponder its words and its images, its decrees and its accounts: was to sense God’s presence and God’s invitation to live transformed lives.
God’s word created everything. The book of the covenant, the Sacred Writings of Israel, revealed God’s creating power, God’s restoring power. The people Israel had an expression for this revealing quality of their Sacred Writings: if it’s not in scripture, it’s not in the world. The maxim continued to be used after the rabbis, where we find it translated from Hebrew into Latin.1
This principle of the rabbis helps us appreciate that torah was considered ultimate: judge everything according to it; measure everything according to it. Could it be possible that torah, God’s revelation clothed in human words, was not ultimate, that something had taken its place? That was the issue in the Galatian church St. Paul had begun.
Paul had been raised to be zealous for torah, and he knew it well. He had been trained as a Pharisee.2 He measured everything according to God’s word clothed in human words, which even led him to persecute the church, a mistaken Jewish sect which worshiped the crucified Jesus as God’s messiah of all things!
In the act of persecuting Jesus and the infant church, the Risen One met Saul along his way. In a word he came to realize not only that Jesus was God’s messiah; Jesus was the measure of everything not torah, God’s word clothed in human words.
One can sense this liberated St. Paul: no longer enslaved to torah but yoked to the Risen One, who accompanied him with power and protection unlike before. This companionship of Risen Jesus with him moved St. Paul to announce to all the freedom he had experienced so that all might share it.
Christian liberty—a phrase which helps us not confuse our understanding of our national freedom with the freedom Risen Jesus offers—empowers us with new qualities of mind and character as well as capacities to exercise those qualities.
The origin, norm and guide to live in these new ways cannot be found in torah or in any human power. God’s Spirit is the origin, norm and guide to live these new ways: in the words of St. Paul, to whom this was revealed by the Risen One, “guided by the Spirit, [one is] not under torah.”
Jesus’ Spirit creates in us the pattern of our Messiah, both his human dispositions and his risen life. We live it as we live Jesus’ emphasis of God’s desire for the people of the covenant, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.3
In Risen Jesus we enjoy his liberty, our Christian liberty. At the same time as we enjoy it, we always fight against powers, which seek to seduce us to separate ourselves from it. This is what St. Paul meant by the flesh: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. St. Paul did not mean by the flesh a narrow category of human existence or sexual behavior. By the flesh he meant promoting oneself as powerful or important. That’s always our predicament, isn’t it? I’d rather contend with that dilemma, than think I can negotiate life by my power alone. Christian liberty makes that distinction. Christian liberty recognizes God did something altogether new in Jesus, and through his dying and rising Jesus gives us his Spirit so may enjoy already a share in his risen life as well.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week pause to become aware of the Trinity with you. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. In your words praise Jesus for pouring his Spirit into your inmost self and recreating in you the pattern of his living, dying and rising. Ask Jesus to increase your desire for his attitude and to live it more readily. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ phrase, daily bread, on our lips reminds us that we live by the empowering nourishment of God at each moment and not by our puny, human power.
- non in tora non in mundo.
- See Philippians 3.4-6 for Paul’s self-description.
- Leviticus 19.18. Jesus emphasized these words in Matthew 22.39 and Luke 10.37. St. Paul even said this law of the Messiah is the fulfillment of torah (Romans 13.8-10).