Tuesday, October 17, 2006

28th Tuesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch
Slavery, Freedom & the Look of Love

Readings: Galatians 5:1-6; Psalm 119:41, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48; Luke 11:37-41

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, a convict is finally released after spending almost a life-time in prison. But life on the outside is hard. In the words of a fellow-convict, he’s been institutionalized. He’s gotten so used to incarceration that try as he might he simply can’t seem to function as a free person. Tragically, he gives in to despair and he hangs himself.

It’s only a movie, but we might wonder if it is indeed possible to get so used to a life in prison that one prefers even death to freedom. In the first reading, Paul seems to be struggling against a similar tendency as he continues to exhort the Galatians not to submit again to the yoke of slavery. When Christ freed us, he reminds them, he meant us to remain free.

What has all this to do with us? We are probably neither convicts nor great fans of circumcision. And yet, in our own lives, might there not also be prison bars of a different sort – bars that we’ve perhaps gotten so used to as to forget that they are there? Whether it be drink or work, sex or shopping, or the need to control and manipulate, isn’t each of these as capable of enslaving as a prison or blind subservience to the Law?

If this is true, we need to consider, respectively, what slavery and freedom look and feel like. The gospel helps by offering a contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees. We know the freedom that Jesus enjoyed: he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, he healed on the Sabbath, he walked to Jerusalem and thence to Calvary… And we know also that Christians through the ages have followed in his steps. In particular, we are reminded today of Igntius of Antioch, who journeyed willingly to martyrdom. On the other hand, of course, we also know all about the Pharisees…

But it’s perhaps not primarily in what they do that Jesus and the Pharisees differ. What they do is only the result of how they see. When Jesus comes into the Pharisee’s house and sits down at table the Pharisee sees only one thing. He notices neither the honor that is being accorded him by Jesus nor the joy and fellowship that is theirs to enjoy. All he sees is an infringement of the Law. Jesus had not first washed before the meal. How different from the compassion with which Jesus looks at people, especially the sick and the sinner. Could this be what Jesus is teaching the Pharisees when he advises them to give alms? Rather than simply giving them another legal requirement to fulfill, by inviting them to attend to the needy, Jesus is helping them to look with eyes of compassion and love instead of self-righteous judgment.

How do we look at ourselves and at others? How might we allow the enslaved Pharisee within us to decrease, so that we might grow in the compassion and freedom of Christ?

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