Wednesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua,
Priest and Doctor of the Church
Climbing the Ladder
Readings: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Psalm 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9; Matthew 5:17-19
Our two readings for Mass today may at first seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, Paul tells us that the written letters (of the Law) bring death, but the Spirit gives life. Yet, on the other hand, Jesus insists that he comes not to abolish but to complete (the Law and the Prophets). He even says that the one who keeps and teaches the Law will be considered great in heaven. How to understand this apparent contradiction?
For the last couple of weeks those of us who frequent Kingsmead Hall will have noticed a ladder leaning against the roof over where the big black table is. Workers have been using that ladder to climb up onto the roof to refresh the waterproof coating on it. If I were the contractor hired to do the job, there’d probably be two kinds of workers I wouldn’t want to hire. The first are those who refuse to climb up that ladder. Maybe they are afraid of heights, or maybe they’re just plain lazy. It doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t hire them, because they wouldn’t get the job done. In the same way, I also wouldn’t be interested in workers who – assuming there are such workers – were so attached to the ladder that, instead of using it to get onto the roof, they preferred to sit on it the whole day long. Perhaps they may have an obsession with ladders. They may even use their own money to buy more ladders so that they could sit on one after the other. I wouldn’t hire them either, because they wouldn’t get the job done.
In a way, the Law is like that ladder. It’s valued not so much in itself as much as for its ability to help us get to the roof, to help us to climb out of our own selfishness in order to get closer to God and to one another in relationships of love. We don’t want to ignore the Law, but neither do we want to cling to it too tightly. We actually know this principle quite well. Consider the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday. We know the spirit behind it. We know that it’s meant to help us to remember and to be in solidarity with the Passion of Christ as well as with the poor of our world. Yet, we also know that sometimes it’s simply not practical to abstain, as when we happen to find ourselves at a family celebration. To insist on abstaining might well dampen the spirit of the occasion. On the other hand, of course, we all know and laugh at the hypocrisy inherent in the practice of abstaining from meat at the same time in which we indulge in shark’s fin soup or buttered lobster. Separated from love, the Law has no useful meaning.
Our readings take us even further. As Paul reminds us, we are not qualified in ourselves to claim anything as our own work: all our qualifications come from God. Try as we might, on our own strength, we are quite incapable of climbing the ladder to get to the roof. And, aware of our weakness, God sends us his only Son, who becomes for us the living ladder, who lowers himself down among us, suffers and dies for us, and so leads us to the heights of life and love in all its fullness. Here at last is a ladder to which we can truly cling. Here is the One who is at once the path and the destination. Here, in Christ, is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Clinging to Christ we find ourselves empowered by the Spirit to mount the heights of love.
How are we being invited both to climb up and to cling onto this Ladder today?