Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Zec 9:9-10
Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-11, 13-14
2) Rom 8:9, 11-13
Gospel: Mt 11:25-30
One of my sons lives on an unpaved country road. If I visit him on a rainy day, my car gets slathered with mud. When it dries, it’s not a pretty sight. You can hardly tell what color the vehicle is. Tired of my dust-mobile spoiling his view, my neighbor once made a point of telling me the location of the nearest car wash.
I suggest we take today’s reading from St. Paul to a kind of mental car wash. He has a great message, but it’s filmed over with some confusing terms.
Paul means to speak of our weakness in the face of temptations to hurt and harm each other — our darned inclination to resist God, to sin. Earlier in the letter, Paul analyzed the way our natural drives get twisted into dysfunctional patterns.
The confusing part is that Paul refers to this tendency as “the flesh” and “the deeds of the body.” It sounds like he has something against our physical nature, our bodily well-being, our normal desires, perhaps specifically, sex.
Is he saying we’re locked in a conflict between body and spirit, between our human nature and spiritual requirements? No. He’s talking about the conflict between our self-serving, other-disregarding tendencies and our natural vocation to live in peace and love with others.
When I drive my SUV out of the car wash, it’s a vibrant blue again. Freed from the misimpression his language may give, Paul’s message is vibrant indeed.
When Paul says, “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you,” he means, “If God’s Spirit lives in you, then you’re no longer going to be inevitably dragged into saying and doing the bad things that you know you’ll regret later.”
When he says, “We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh,” he is declaring that the power of the Spirit within us outweighs our tendency to put self ahead of others. The Spirit gives us a stronger inclination — an inclination to love. The Spirit empowers us and prompts us to love.
By saying, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” he invites us to believe in the power of God’s Spirit to enable us to change for the better. So let us believe!
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.