Sunday Sermon for June 30, 2019, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 1 Ki 19:16b, 19-21; Gal 5:1, 13-18; Lk 9:51-62
In the second reading today St. Paul tells us we were called for freedom, but then he says we are not to use this freedom for the flesh, but to serve one another through love. Normally we would think of a servant as someone who is not free, someone who is bound to carry out the directives of the master. Although an aspect of this is correct, that is, a servant carries out the directives of another, this does not necessarily imply that a servant is not free.
With Independence Day coming next week in the United States, we need to define freedom. Most Americans define freedom is being able to do whatever I want, when I want, and no one can tell me any different. This is not freedom; it is license. When people want to do whatever they want, they often want to do something inappropriate or sinful. We have to recall the words of our Lord when He said: “Anyone who sins becomes a slave to sin.” Suddenly, for those who have the definition of freedom wrong, the very thing they want to do to demonstrate their freedom is what enslaves them.
Isn’t that the way the devil works? The father of lies takes something so beautiful and twists it until is it exactly the opposite of the truth. For instance, if a person thinks a servant is one who does the will of another, then ask yourself if there is anyone you know who is not a servant. Parents freely chose to be servants to their children, married couples are servants to one another, employees are servants to their supervisors, citizens are servants of the law, and so on. Yes, there are some who are forced into a slavery that violates their dignity, but as we can see, most situations of being a servant are freely chosen and do not violate our dignity.
So, what is freedom? True freedom is doing the will of God. On the surface, this might not sound like freedom, but when we consider that God wills only what is the best for us, then we realize that doing God’s will is perfect freedom. There is no selfishness on God’s part in anything; everything He does or asks is done out of pure love. It is this love that causes God to be a servant to us. Jesus told us He came into this world not to be served, but to serve. To love is to serve.
Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, we will find fulfillment only when we are acting in the way we were created. If everything God does is done out of love, then we will find fulfillment only when we are acting out of true love. Love is the opposite of selfishness, so if we are acting selfishly (sinfully) then we have chosen slavery. When we choose to love, we freely choose to make ourselves the servant of those whom we love. This is not limited to only a few people around us, but extends to everyone. The greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor.
St. Paul tells us about the opposition between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh desires selfish gratification whereas the Spirit inspires selfless charity. When we were baptized we threw off the yoke of slavery to sin and put on the yoke of Christ to live in the freedom of the children of God. Jesus makes clear that anyone who puts their hand to the plow but keeps looking back to what they have left is not fit for the Kingdom of God.
Looking back is an easy temptation to fall into. For example, when we give up some area of sin but keeping looking back fondly and even wishing we could still be giving into something sinful that hurts us. Or, when we enter into a vocation and keep thinking about someone or something else. Or when we say yes to God and keep listening to the lies of the devil.
The Prophet Elisha gives us a beautiful example of what we should do with the yoke of slavery. When he accepted the call of God given through Elijah, Elisha slaughtered the oxen he used for farming and burned the plowing equipment. Of course, part of this equipment was the yoke that kept the oxen together. So, Elisha burned the yoke and never looked back. On the day of our baptism, God removed the yoke of Satan from our shoulders and put on the yoke of Christ. Many of us keep taking off the yoke of Christ and putting on the yoke of slavery again. Take off the yoke of sin and burn it; put on the yoke of Christ and live in the freedom of love.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.