Saturday, October 24, 2009

If The Spirit Of God Dwells In You, He Will Give You Life.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:1-11).

Paul has previously explained how powerful sin can be. People may want to please God, and try to obey God’s law. But human nature is not strong enough to oppose the power of sin. God’s law tells us how to live according to God’s will; but sin is like another law, which goes against God’s law. People struggle against sin, but their efforts to do what is right and avoid what is wrong seem futile.

Now, Paul writes that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, since through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” God frees his people from the power of sin. He forgives us, and makes us righteous, not because we deserve to be forgiven, but because he loves us, and his love is given to us as mercy.

The new relationship between humankind and our creator has been made possible by reason of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which redeemed us of the burden of our sinfulness. After the death of Jesus, God sent the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, and gives the grace of sorrow and repentance for our wrongdoing, and the grace of wisdom and courage to do what is right and avoid what is wrong in the future.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds focused on the things of the flesh: pleasure, profit and power. Those who live according to God’s Spirit have their minds set on the things of the spirit, and open themselves to be taught how best to fulfill the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart, and mind, and might; and love your neighbor as yourself. That is the whole law and all the commandments.

The ultimate consequence of sin is death, not only physical death, at the end of natural life in this world, but “second death”, eternity in the nether world, “Sheol”, in Hebrew, “Hades” in Greek, “Hell” in English. Those who allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit experience joy and peace in this life, because they are aware of the loving presence of God even in the midst of trials and tribulation.

Of course, this does not mean that Christians live perfect lives; they do not. The enemy continues to use their natural thoughts and desires to tempt them, and such thoughts and desires can lead to sinful acts. The followers of Jesus learn to depend upon the Holy Spirit. They learn to allow the Holy Spirit to direct their lives, and they trust God to provide the graces they need, to resist temptation, and to express contrition for their wrongdoing.

In the end, the body will die; but the death of the body is not the end of the human person, because the soul will remain alive. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells within you, then the one who raised Jesus from the dead will give new life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit dwelling within you.”

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Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (13:1-9)

Some people came to Jesus and told him about some Galilees who were offering sacrifices to the LORD when soldiers under the orders of Pilate “mingled their blood with the blood of their sacrifices”. In reply, Jesus asked them this question, “What do you think about these Galileans? Were they greater sinners than other Galileans? Is that why they suffered as they did? No, they were not! But, if you do not repent of your own sins, you also will perish!”

Jesus then reminded his disciples of another incident. A water tower was being built at Siloam, as part of Pilate’s plan to improve the supply of fresh water to Jerusalem. It was a necessary project, but the Jews were angry at how it was financed. Pilate took money from the Temple to pay for it. The Pharisees and the Temple priests taught that devout Jews should not work on the project, much less accept money which came from Temple funds as their wages.

When the water tower at Siloam collapsed, Jesus asked his disciples this question: “Do you believe that they were worse sinners than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? No, they were not! But, if you do not repent for your sins, you will perish as they did!”

Then Jesus told the disciples this parable: A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He looked for fruit on it, but found none. So he spoke to his servant who tended the vineyard. “Look, I have looked for fruit on this tree for three years. But I have not found any. Cut it down! Why should it waste the space?” But the man answered, “Leave it alone, sir, for just one more year. I will cultivate the ground around it, and fertilize it. It may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can have it cut down.”

The extra year in this parable reminds us that God gives people countless chances to repent of their sins and reform their lives. But there comes a time when there are no more opportunities. That moment, as one of my favorite preachers used to say, is “the moment after the moment of death.”

I have been graced with the opportunity to hear the death-bed confessions of many people over the years since my ordination. In the week before Christmas that year, I visited the local hospital where I gave absolution to two patients who had been away from the sacraments for a total of one hundred ten years. I am looking forward to rejoicing with them in Heaven, and counting on their prayers to help me get there. I am really not in any hurry.  But, in the mean time, I try to remember what I tell folks from seven to seventy-seven and beyond: “Live this day as if were the first day, the last day, the only day of your life. One of these days, it will be!”

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