26 Jun 2016
“If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18) (+)
Back in early 2000, Charles Schultz drew an amazing Peanuts cartoon strip that in eight panels captured the essential difference between the Spirit and the Law. Rerun, Linus’ younger brother, is colouring excitedly in school, hands flying with delight, saying, “More action! More color!” The girl sitting at the same table informs him matter-of-factly, “We’re supposed to be painting flowers today.” “I don’t do flowers,” answers the young boy, “I do underground comics. See? Here’s Billie Jean King and Daffy Duck throwing Long John Silver off the pirate ship. I have big plans for my work.” He then approaches the teacher’s desk, holding up his unique pirate drawing to share his dreams saying, “Yes, ma’am. These will be consecutively numbered limited edition prints. Each print will be signed and accompanied by a certificate of authentication.” Then all you see is a dejected Rerun answering the teacher by saying, “Yes, ma’am, I understand.” He returns to the table where the little girl asks, “What did she say?” Without even looking up, head down, Rerun replies, “She said today we’re painting flowers.”
And so the story goes from childhood through maturity. Creativity is in a constant battle with regimen, and the spiritual is not walled-off from this competition. We met this past week to discuss a book about the woman apostle Junia who is mentioned at the end of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Her example is one of creative excitement that walked smack into the wall of regimen. The author of the book, however, references several important religious thinkers throughout Christian history who have been inspired by the Epistle to the Romans. This is Paul’s formal and defining explanation of his theology and it is a wonderful read, but my favourite Pauline writing is the Epistle to the Galatians, the one from which we have been reading recently at our Sunday Masses. It is often uncensored. It is Paul speaking to us without the filter of time. It’s almost a stream of consciousness writing. Romans is like a letter that a person sits down to write, sets it aside, thinks about it, writes again and eventually feels ready to mail. Galatians in an emotional email sent out in the heat of the moment. And without the filter of time Paul’s feelings emerge, and one of his essential concerns is religious freedom.
Paul battles throughout his apostleship with other leaders of the church who want to impose again the law over those earliest Christians. And Paul, speaking in the name of the risen Christ, refuses to compromise. We hear part of his battle cry this morning when we read: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (5:1) For Paul freedom is the Spirit and slavery is commandment. Freedom, he says, however, cannot be an excuse for self-indulgence. Freedom means letting the Spirit inspire us, however the Spirit will inspire us, but the Spirit will never lead to selfishness. This is how Paul condenses the 613 Old Testament laws, and even Jesus’ 2 Command-ments of Love down to but one single statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This allows room for all the creativity of living in the Spirit in all sorts of circumstances and times. People in the freedom of the Spirit can practice their faith how they wish and as different and uniquely as they wish, and they can allow others to do the same.
Think back to this morning’s Gospel. The passage we shared is a fundamental transition point in Luke’s writing. Here in the middle of Chapter 9, Luke’s Jesus “resolutely determines to journey to Jerusalem.” (9:51) Ten full chapters later He finally arrives and we all know the story of what happens next. Those ten chapters tell of the culmination of Jesus’ ministry and teaching, and they begin with an uncommon story in Luke of the disciples’ failure. Luke doesn’t like to share those stories, but I think he includes this one because of its nearly universal application. Jesus and the disciples enter a village and they meet with resistance. They are not welcomed. The seemingly natural response of the disciples is conveyed when they turn to Jesus and ask, almost demand, “‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’” (9:54) Jesus’ words must have been such a surprise. Rather than joining them in condemning those opposed to their ministry, Jesus rebukes His own disciples. Faith can never be imposed or enforced. Church is not about condemnation Faith has to be embraced for it to be authentic. That’s the difference between obeying the law and living in the Spirit.
And for anyone who imagines that Christian freedom is going to be easier than following the law, we next hear from Jesus about commitment, and some of the statements are uttered in the extreme to make the point absolutely clear. To the one who wants to become a follower of Jesus but must first bury his father, Jesus replies, “‘Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” (9:60) Freedom does not mean hobby. Freedom means letting the Spirit guide and do as the Spirit wishes. That can’t be regulated by the rules of any law.
And before we start to imagine the impossibility of living in this way, let’s consider quickly the alternative. Paul is absolutely right when he warns about the rush to condemnation that is too often a part of religious law. His words are prophetic: “But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:15) How many times in how many ways do we need to hear that the one who lives by the sword dies by the sword. There is only so much security gained by constantly attacking opponents and enemies. At some point we are going to have to find a way to live with one another. That hope can’t be legislated or enforced by law. It has to be embraced freely by people who recognize that there is only one commandment of God: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” May we give this message a chance to take root in our lives and our communities on this beautiful summer Sunday morning. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo