In today’s first reading Paul reminds the Corinthians that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And in today’s gospel reading the Spirit of the Lord was certainly on Jesus, as he spoke with authority about commandments they were all too familiar with. With freedom conferred by the Spirit he critiqued not the command itself, but the understanding attached to it by Scribes and Pharisees, whose righteousness was not enough to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Most of the “commandments” of the decalogue are really “prohibitions”: Thou shall not... When we see God’s desires on us in terms of things to avoid, we are thinking in terms of a minimum required, of sidelines around the playing field that are not to be stepped over. But nobody wins a game by just staying inbounds and avoiding penalties, one has to be positively engaged in the game. Some times we spend so much energy avoiding evil, that, when the time comes for us to do good, we are exhausted and have no energy left for the good.
In the Spirit Jesus has the freedom to look beyond the bare minimum of the letter of the text to uncover the spirit of the command —freedom to read beyond “murder” into the spirit of hurting or offending our brother/sister; freedom to move beyond the retaliation law of “only” tooth for tooth and eye for eye into the spirit of not holding back from the offender, of turning the other cheek, of giving our shirt to the one who is trying to take away our coat. It is a freedom for, not just a freedom from.
By the way, it seems to me that we are not really free to do something,
unless we are free not to do it. At my age I am no longer required
to fast on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, so I may eat regular meals
without any qualm of conscience. But, unless I am free to observe
fasting now and then, I would be compulsively free to use my exemption
from fasting. However being compulsively free is an oxymoron. Today
we are blessed with the freedom to receive from the chalice at communion,
a freedom we did not enjoy not all that long ago. When I attend
mass, instead of presiding at its celebration, some times I exercise
my freedom not to receive from the chalice, so as to make sure I
am not “compulsively free” to receive under both species.
As the Spirit of the Lord gives us freedom, we need to remain free
from compulsively using that freedom.
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