Today’s liturgical readings start on a positive challenge—we have choices. The choice is dramatic—choose life or death. God created the cosmos and us because God is love and God has to share love. Because God is love, God also gave us freedom—the capacity to respond to God or to not respond to God.
Before we go any further, I need to lay some ground work regarding our concept of God who is beyond all concepts. Our Jewish forbears in the faith couched their faith in their beliefs about the world. To them the earth and seas were covered by a vaulted doom which held back the waters. The stars and moon and sun were affixed to the dome. God who is above all dwelled above the dome and occasionally came down to rescue people.
A story illustrates our outmoded concept of God. As the flood waters were rising the sheriff’s jeep rolled up and urged the man to evacuate his front porch. He refused. Later, when he had retreated to the roof of the front porch, a boat came by. He again refused to be rescued. Finally, after he was clinging to the chimney, a helicopter lowered a rope. Again he refused. Then he cried out, “God, why won’t you help me?” God replied, “I sent you a Jeep, a boat and a helicopter.” God comes to us disguised as our life.
We now see the cosmos differently. NASA space probes have shown us that the universe consists in billions of galaxies like our Milky Way. Each galaxy has billions of stars. Scientists just the other day identified a star in the expanding universe that is over 13 billion years old. God is not up there and out there.
Jesus clearly said that the kingdom of God is within you. God who created the cosmos and everything in it is love and love must create and relate. God is in our hearts—the symbolic heart of our bodies and the heart of the Body of Christ. The God within is calling us to love in return.
Unfortunately, the human condition, which some have called original sin, predisposes us to not always choose God and God’s ways. What Deuteronomy and Sirach set before us is a challenge—choose, choose life or choose death. The choice is ours as God always beckons us to be more than what we are. God challenges us to rise above our self-centered human condition.
Original sin is a metaphor for our capacity to be self-seeking and self-serving while the very image of God within us challenges us to love. Paul is delaying with the same issue when he tries to teach the people of Corinth how to live in union with God. Paul wants them to live spiritual lives, not lives in the flesh. Here flesh means all that is opposed to God, not our bodies. God calls us to life. The Risen Christ lives in us through the power of the Spirit. Christ never once said, “Come, worship me.” Christ says, “Come, follow me!” To follow Christ as disciples means to live as Christ lived. Christ calls us to choose the values he chose—love, compassion, service, justice.
What keeps us from selfless love? Karl Rahner who was a young Jesuit in Germany and Austria during WW II used the metaphor of rubbled over bomb shelters to describe the human condition. After the bombings the people had to dig through the rubble over the shelter doors in order to come out of the shelter. All this stuff, all this rubble gets in the way of our coming into new life—responding to God and others in love. Our hearts are rubbled over by all sorts of things—stuff from the past, wrongs we have done, wrongs others have done to us. Paul counted all this rubble as rubbish—actually he used the Greek word for manure-skybalon—compared to the love of God which calls us.
Choose life or death. Jesus ups the ante. He challenges us through prayer and the law of Christ to clear away the rubble in our hearts. The Jewish people had a profound respect for the Law of Moses, the Torah which is contained in the first five books of the Bible, We often think of law as something negative that constrains us. Contrary to what Paul seems to be saying about the Law, the Jews saw the law as the vehicle for enabling them to choose life. Follow the Law and you will have life and life in abundance. Unfortunately, the Pharisees got carried away. In order to set up safeguards to help people keep the law, they over time developed 613 laws. Their strict interpretation of the Torah was meant to be a positive thing but, in reality, it burdened the people. The law came to be more about specific prescriptions than about love of God and neighbor.
Jesus took the Pharisees to task for this and announced a higher, more demanding law. “They said of old bit I say to you.” Today we have four examples. Calling a brother or a sister a fool is tantamount to murder. Looking upon a person with lust in your heart is tantamount to adultery. The same principle applies to divorce and taking oaths. This is a new high standard for Disciples of Christ. No wonder Paul felt so helpless—he continuously did that which he would not do. And we do the same—often we choose death over life. When we bottom out and realize that we are powerless on our own to become what we really are, we then commit ourselves to Christ. The spirit of the Risen Christ becomes that small still voice within which empowers us to choose life. Following Jesus’ teaching on the Law of Love empowers us to choose life. When we lose our life and take refuge in the love of Christ we are choosing life and life in abundance.
The power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ living deep within our hearts empowers us to clear way the rubble and choose life.