Live by the Spirit, you will be set free
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 27, 2004
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
and the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 4, 2004
was poised to make baseball history. A couple of months ago Major League Baseball announced that the makers of the movie sequel had purchased the rights to place an image of Spiderman on every base on every field for one weekend this summer.
Fans were outraged. It's bad enough you cannot view an over-the-wall catch in centerfield without being encouraged to tune in a radio station, swallow soft drinks or buy a car. Advertisements have been encroaching on the fan's field of vision. So far, they have advanced no farther than the perimeter that divides player from fan, that liminal space across which an occasional fly ball drops like manna from heaven upon hungry fans below.
But this was too much. Now baseball had sold its bases. You were not going to be able to admire the steal, the double play, the bunt or the head-scratching infield fly rule without seeing Spiderman already occupying all the bases and encouraging you to get out of the ballpark and into a movie theatre as soon as possible.
Within days, Major League Baseball scrapped the plan. The bases have been saved. For now.
It was a victory for fans, but a hypocritical one. Most of us, in one way or another, have sold our very wardrobe to advertisers. We wear T-shirts that promote rock concerts, caps that market farm equipment, shoes that publicize shoes, and all kinds of gear that spread allegiance to baseball, football and all known and unknown sports. Fans have little room to whine. From bumper stickers to decals, we have tattooed our possessions and sold our souls.
If anyone should possess our souls, it should be Christ. But many of us enter the store as a slave to cosmetics, the poll booth as a slave to a political party, and the gas station as a slave to mobility.
St. Paul is having none of it. This weekend and next we hear passages from the concluding chapter of his great Letter to the Galatians.
The very first Christians, the immediate followers of Jesus, were Jewish. But the message of Christ appealed to Gentiles as well. First century Jews and Gentiles, who held little in common, suddenly found themselves as brothers and sisters of a common belief in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, as well as his moral exhortations.
Inclusion was beautiful, but it posed problems. If you were Jewish, it was hard to completely abandon the religious practices of your ancestors. If you were Gentile, you did not share the same spiritual inheritance as the Jews. Apparently, someone was telling the Christians in Galatia they had to adhere both to Judaism and to Christianity.
Paul disagreed. He disagreed most loudly and articulately in his Letter to the Galatians. "Look," he says at the start of the last chapter, grabbing the stylus from his secretary; "I'm writing this in my own hand with LARGE LETTERS so you don't miss the message."
The message, this weekend, is freedom from the Judaic law (5:1, 13-18). Paul draws a neat distinction between doing the law and fulfilling the law. Jesus set them free from doing the law, but they were to fulfill the law with the famous dictum, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Christians are free from slavery to the old law, but they are slaves to the new law, love of neighbor. They should not use their freedom to pursue the desires of the flesh. They have no license to misbehave: "You may not do what you want," Paul says. Instead, "live by the Spirit."
Paul steers Christians away from several sins, especially selfishness and prejudices. If Christians live in the Spirit, we will not "go on biting and devouring one another."
Next weekend, we hear Paul boast in the cross of Jesus Christ. As far as Paul is concerned, the world has been crucified. And as far as the world is concerned, Paul has been crucified. Paul has nothing to do with the world anymore. He has suffered injury at the hands of the world, and he bears the bruises and scars on his body like the logos we wear on our sweaters. He is a slave, but a slave only to Christ. Not to the world. Not to fashion. Not to Spiderman. Not to baseball.
"From now on," Paul says, "let no one make troubles for me." True freedom comes whenever we say no to consumerism and the tendency to impose needlessly restrictive laws on believers who are free.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.