OVERCOMING SLAVERY BY LIVING IN THE FREEDOM OF THE SPIRIT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 8:12-17; Ps 68:2,4,6-7,20-21; Lk 13:10-17 ]
There are two things that prevent us from living life to the fullest. The first is when we live unspiritual lives. This is what St Paul wrote, “there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives. If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die.” Indeed, when we allow ourselves to live worldly lives rooted in selfishness, self-indulgence, injustice, greed, anger and dishonesty, we will bring about our own death. We cannot be happy living such a life because it will be a life of restlessness, anxiety, fear and guilt. People who live such sinful lives cannot enter the Kingdom of God. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9f)
But there is also another form of slavery which is in contrast to those who live unspiritual lives. In the former, slavery is to oneself, one’s ego and desires. This slavery is a slavery to the laws and to structure. It is a slavery based on external structures. Such slavish observance of the laws bring death as well. Indeed, this was the slavery of the Jewish leaders. Their life was founded on the legal system. The system was more important than the persons and their lives. They loved the laws more than those who practised them. They spent their whole life seeking to uphold the laws at all costs, even if it meant causing people to suffer unnecessarily as the laws did not take account of the needs of the individuals. This was what happened to the woman who was unable to stand up straight for 18 years. She was in the synagogue but the President of the Synagogue “was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and he addressed the people present. ‘There are six days’ he said ‘when work is to be done. Come and be healed on one of those days and not on the Sabbath.’” He was only concerned with the observance of the Sabbath Law but oblivious to the suffering of the woman.
Either way, we are doomed to die or live a life that is as good as dead. We live in fear when we sin because of the consequences of our sins. We know that selfishness will take away our peace and hurt our conscience. On the other hand, we could also live in fear of breaking the law. There are some good Catholics who are over-scrupulous with regard to the laws of the Church, be they liturgical laws, Church laws or even of the commandments. They live in fear of God’s punishment and they live in guilt. Even when they observe the laws, they are not happy. They find religion such a burden. In the secrets of their hearts, they wish they could do things that those without religion do. In truth, they hold a hidden hostility and even resentment against God.
How then can we overcome this slavery? We are called to live in the power of the Spirit. St Paul wrote, “If by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.” We can put paid to the sinful self by living in the consciousness of the Holy Spirit. On our own strength, we cannot overcome our sinful desires. No matter how much we try, we will fall into sin because of our sinful nature. However, we do not need to live under our sinful nature anymore. We can live under the Spirit of God. Instead of allowing our human spirit to take charge of our lives, we can live by the Spirit of God. But this is provided, we are conscious of the Spirit of God in us. This explains why the Baptism in the Holy Spirit was rather important in the early Church because it was a conscious experience of the presence of the Spirit in their lives. Even now, those who are renewed in the Holy Spirit rediscover a new personal relationship with God in prayer, in their daily life. Those who have encountered the Holy Spirit, whether in the renewal of His gifts or in some religious conversion experience, no longer live the same lives.
The consequence of being renewed in the Spirit is to become conscious that we are sons and daughters of God. St Paul wrote, “The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God.” This consciousness that we are God’s children is not something that is intellectual but a personal experience of being loved by God. It is the outpouring of His Spirit in our hearts. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom 5:5) This explains why both the Spirit of God and our own spirit bear witness together. It is an interior experience and conviction of the heart.
Secondly, it is this consciousness that we are sons and daughters of God in Christ that free us from fear and all forms of anxiety because we know that God is our Abba Father. “The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” When we call God our Father, it is no longer just a thought or an idea but sharing in Christ’s sonship. We can now address God as Father the way Jesus related to His Abba Father. This relationship is one of intimacy and trust. Like Jesus, when we become conscious that God is our Father, we no longer worry too much about the future because we know that God will look after us and our needs. With the psalmist, we are confident that this God of ours will save us. “Let God arise, let his foes be scattered. Let those who hate him flee before him. But the just shall rejoice at the presence of God, they shall exult and dance for joy. Father of the orphan, defender of the widow, such is God in his holy place. God gives the lonely a home to live in; he leads the prisoners forth into freedom. He bears our burdens, God our saviour.”
Thirdly, the consciousness of our sonship in Christ is our participation in His sufferings as well as His glory. Being in Christ means that we are ready to suffer with Him in love and service. It calls for self-sacrifice, living not for ourselves but for God and for others. This invitation to suffer with Jesus is a necessary consequence of following Jesus because like Jesus we will be persecuted, misunderstood and sometimes even slandered because our values contradict the secular values of the world. This is where we need to carry our cross and follow after Him. But in our suffering, we are not hopeless because we are confident that we will also share in His glory. We will be vindicated if not in this life, we can rest in peace knowing that the Father will accept us and give us the rewards of eternal life. “This God of ours is a God who saves. The Lord our God holds the keys of death.”
Indeed, if Jesus were able to live freely and without fear it was because He was conscious of His sonship. He was neither a slave to sin nor was He a slave to the laws as well. He put people before the system. He saw all laws as means to an end, which is to give life. He did not subordinate the human person to the laws without understanding the context. Indeed, He saw through the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. They cared more for their animals than their fellowmen. Jesus challenged them, “Is there one of you who does not untie his ox or his donkey from the manger on the Sabbath and take it out for watering? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years – was it not right to untie her bonds on the Sabbath day?” For an animal, they would save, but not for a human being in suffering, simply because it was a Sabbath. In Jesus’ understanding this would put the laws before the human person who is in need of help. When it comes to setting people free from pain and fears, this should be done as soon as possible without unnecessary delay. Any kindness that should be done must be done quickly.
Furthermore, Jesus recognized the woman as a daughter of Abraham who was under the bondage of the Evil One. For this reason, she should be healed immediately and not allow Evil to control her life. When we see everyone as a child of God and our brother and sister, we will also do the same. Human beings are not digits or things without a heart. We need to feel with their pain, anxiety and suffering. Only people with a heart of compassion like Jesus identifies with them. He calls them his brothers and sisters. (cf Heb 5:1f)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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