01 August 2007

Scaring Angels

St. Alphonsus Liguori: Romans 8.1-4 and Matthew 5.13-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Listen here!

What does it mean for us to live according to “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus”? This law—not the old and of the flesh but the fulfilled and of the spirit—this law “has freed [us] from the law of sin and death.” Any law that frees us from sin and death is a law worth knowing well. But do we know it well? Do we know it at all? Could we answer a simple question based on this saving law? If not, how are we to then live?

The old, fleshy law is simple enough to understand. Basically, it was an exchange, a divine-human covenant based on a contract that detailed obligations for both parties involved and carried with it both explicit and implicit duties and compensations—“I will be your God and you will be My people.” One was “faithful to the covenant” so long as one sacrificed at the temple, kept the kosher laws, observe the purity restrictions, etc. Any lapse, any relaxation was taken to be a sign of one’s failure to “keep faith.”

Since this law was “weakened by the flesh,” it was powerless to do what God did when He fulfilled this law in Christ Jesus. What do we mean when we say “the law was fulfilled”? This means that God took the old law, dragged it to its own final end and then made it possible for us to benefit from the work of the old law without the meeting all of the requirements of the law. In other words, God, by sending His Son in the flesh and giving him up to death, fulfilled all the sacrifices that the Old Law required, purified all food and utensils, released us all from the bondage of sin—something the Old Law was designed to do but failed b/c it required our constant faithfulness—and God made us holy (healed & whole) by adopting us as His sons and daughters, heirs to His kingdom.

Now, as sons and daughters of the Most High, we live out the New Covenant, fulfilling the spiritual law of life in Christ Jesus! We are back to the beginning. How do we do this, live out this law? Jesus is clear: “…not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” OK. Maybe not so clear. Do we follow the law or not? Yes, we do. But we follow the law as it is fulfilled in Christ Jesus; that is, we follow the law of love presented in the beatitudes, holding firm to the covenant of freedom in God that the old law expected of us but did not always provide. We follow this perfecting law as it is being perfected in Christ, anticipating its final fulfillment and our own, waiting against hope “until heaven and earth pass away.”

What do we do while we wait? Well, we don’t hide our hope nor do we let our faith in the Lord grow stale. Nor do we claim a secular liberty that is not true freedom in Christ. Nor do we work for others merely to gain favor or fame. Nor do we waste time with purity if we understand purity to be an end in itself. The Beatitudes fulfill the Ten Commandments; that is, the Sermon on the Mount is the miracle of Moses’ tablets from Mt. Sinai: God speaks and the Word streaks out, indelibly etching stone, wood, the flesh of the heart; carving in all creation the Word of re-creation, of return and completion.

Our joy must be so profound, so excessive and wild, that when we storm heaven, we frighten the angels! And here and now, our lives should be no different than our lives in heaven. Why would they be different? By choice? By accident? We do not hide our Christ light or flinch in fear or cringe away from the ugliness of this world, the pain and jeopardy of living. Your life and mine must be bright shining lamps set atop a tall stand. Not to be admired for the clarity of our shine but to be used for directions to divine safety. We are reference points on the way to God. Do we look the part? Act the part? More importantly, if someone were to ask you: how do I live the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus? Would you be able to say to them with confidence, “Yes, I do. Just follow me and I will show you”?

Pic: Rebecca Newell

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