The thinking behind this Sunday’s readings occupied Paul, in his letter to the Romans, when he was grappling with explaining how we are torn between slavery and freedom, the Law and the Spirit.
We all, when we reflect, are aware of the tension he describes: ‘for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side … I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the law of my mind’ (Romans 7:21ff). He cries out, almost in despair, ‘who will rescue me from this?’ Well, this sets the scene for the rich chapter 8 where he eloquently describes the role of the Spirit in not only rescuing us but opening up a whole new world.
This had all been announced, in oblique language, long ago in the desert. Moses told the people; if you follow the laws God has given you, they will lead you to ‘possession of the land’, that is, the fullness of the revelation that would come with Jesus. But they didn’t. They could not rise above the ‘law acting on my body’, that is, all the cravings for happiness that take short cuts through hypocrisy and exploitation of others. Jesus is really angry with the scribes and Pharisees who are holding the people in their grip. He quotes Isaiah:
This people honours me with their lips; Their hearts are far from me.
We are invited to feel this tug of war within us. What is preventing us listening to this new law of inner freedom, given to us by the Spirit of Jesus? Are we slaves to habits, acquired over years, which take the gloss off our daily joy? Unexamined habits that, in effect, are simply new versions of the ‘law’ we claim we have grown out of, but which, in truth, still have a deadly hold on us. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, it is not that Christianity has failed; it has not been tried! ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’
This Sunday’s gospel is a huge challenge to us. Are we ready to ‘get serious’ about the inner work we have to do to welcome the good news of freedom Jesus offers? Or are we content, at the end of the day, with our own version of the way of the prophets of Baal who ‘hobbled first on one leg, then on the other’ (1 Kings New18:21)?
29 August 2021 Sunday 22B Deut 4:1…8 James 1:17…27 Mark7:1…23