Monday, October 26, 2009

We Are Children Of God, We Are Coheirs With Christ.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:12-27). Paul reminds the Christians of Rome, and ourselves, that we must not be “debtors to the flesh, who live according to the flesh”. Those who live according to the flesh will die. Not only will they die in the flesh when their live in this world comes to an end; they will also experience “the second death”, an eternity of punishment in the abode of the damned.

At the time Paul was writing, if someone adopted a child, the child would bear that person’s family name, and would have the right to inherit that person’s property. There was a formal ceremony in Roman law in which the child was handed over to the adoptive father in the presence of witnesses. The former life of the child ceased to exist, and a new life began. A child who had been a slave was now a free person. The adoptive child had the same rights as the children by birth, and, when the father passed from this world, would receive an equal share of the father’s property and assets.

Paul writes, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery, but a spirit of adoption, by which we cry out “Abba, Father!” Paul reminds the Roman Christians – and ourselves – that by baptism we have become children of God by adoption; “and if we are children, then we are also heirs of God, and coheirs with Christ.” But, just as Christ suffered and died before he entered his glory, so too the Christian must experience suffering in this life; “we suffer with Him, so that we might also be glorified with Him.”

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (13:10-17) On the Sabbath, Jesus was teaching a synagogue. A woman was there who had been crippled by a demon for eighteen years. She was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her, and said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In Jesus’ time, the polite way to address a woman directly was to say “Woman”, in much the same way that, in our time, one might say, “Ma’am”, or in more formal speech, “Madam”, or “Milady”. Jesus laid his hands on her, and she immediately stood up straight, and began to glorify God.

The leader of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed the woman on the Sabbath, because the Law of Moses prohibited administering medicine or other forms of healing on the Lord’s Day. Yet he did not address himself directly to Jesus, but to the people in the congregation: “There are six days for work; come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

Jesus answered the rabbi’s complaint not to him, but to the people: “You hypocrites! Doesn’t every one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead it out to give it water?” (That is prohibited on the Sabbath in the Law of Moses). Jesus continued, “This daughter of Abraham has been kept in bondage by Satan for eighteen long years. Are you telling me that she shouldn’t have been set free on the Sabbath?”

The whole crowd rejoiced at the wonderful deeds he was doing.

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“He was teaching in a synagogue.” This is the last time in Luke that Jesus appears in a synagogue; the rift between him and the authorities is growing wider. They were for law, he was for mercy. The difference was focused poignantly in the figure of the old woman crippled for eighteen years. Jesus healed her, though this constituted breaking the sabbath according to the interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees. They looked and saw only a breach of rules; Jesus looked and saw God's mercy meeting human misery. Jesus was a formidable opponent: he pointed out their inconsistency in allowing people to come to the aid of an animal on the sabbath but not to the aid of a human being. People don’t like been shown up in such an unflattering light, and it goes some way towards explaining their implacable hatred of him. He was not just showing another way, he was undermining theirs.

Theirs was a narrow legalistic version of the great Jewish faith; it was a thing of the mind alone, with no heart in it. What strikes you is the absence of joy: they were unable to feel any joy at the old woman’s healing. Religion without joy is hollow and shows itself to be a product of the ego. The ego knows selfish gratification, but not joy. Joy is an expansion of the heart: to experience joy is to lose oneself – ultimately in God. Luke records that Jesus was filled with joy (10:21), and so were his disciples (Acts 13:52). In each case he says it is joy in the Holy Spirit. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, mentioned next to love by Paul (Galatians 5:22). Between the religion of the ego and the religion of Jesus there is a chasm that can only be crossed in one giant leap (you cannot cross a chasm in two short leaps). It is a leap of joy in the Holy Spirit.

Donagh O’Shea O.P.

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