13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: by Benjamin Ibañez on Unsplash
My dear friends, have you ever heard of an invisible fence? Years ago, someone walked by a house, and saw a beautiful golden retriever sitting calmly in the front yard. And he wondered why the dog didn’t run away, since the yard didn’t seem to have a fence. Only later did he discover that there is such a thing as an invisible electric pet fence, consisting of wiring buried underground, which interacts with a gadget worn by the pet, keeping it from crossing a designated boundary. Some fences are less obvious than others.
Which is helpful to remember, while we ponder the scriptures today. As you know, in the letter to the Galatians, from which the second reading is taken, St Paul tries to persuade his gentile Christian readers not to allow themselves to be fenced in by the Jewish law of circumcision. For, by Dying and Rising, Christ has already set us free, apart from the Law. So that, for the Galatians, accepting circumcision would be the same as submitting again to a yoke of slavery.
But there are also less obvious forms of slavery. Which is why Paul warns his readers not to allow their freedom from the Law to provide an opening for self-indulgence. And in case we may wonder how self-indulgence can be a form of slavery, we have only to consider some of the addictions to which we can fall prey in modern society. Beyond the more obvious ones like narcotics, alcohol and gambling, aren’t there also less obvious drugs like pornography and sex, gadget-use and gaming, overwork and over-consumption in general?
But if the ability to do whatever we want can lead to a less obvious form of slavery, then what does Christian freedom look like? And how do we become truly free? According to Paul, Christian freedom consists in simply being able to love. To love God and neighbour, by engaging in works of service, energised and guided by the Spirit.
And what Paul describes in theory, Elijah and Jesus illustrate in practice. After spending time communing with God on Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, the previously burnt-out prophet receives not just a fresh mission, but also renewed energy to carry it out. Selflessly, Elijah anoints Elisha to succeed him. Similarly, soon after having been transfigured on a mountain, Jesus resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, despite knowing the difficult destiny that awaits him there.
So for both Elijah and Jesus, the freedom and energy to respond to God’s call, come from a prior encounter with God. Perhaps this is why, for a good number of us, our faith can feel less like being set free to love, and more like being fenced in by obligations. For aren’t our lives so packed that we don’t have the space even to catch our own breath, let alone to encounter and be energised by the Breath of God?
If this is true, sisters and brothers, then what can we do to let God remove the fences in our lives, visible or otherwise, so that we may continue being set free for love today?