The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Zech 9:9-10 + Rom 8:9,11-13 + Mt 11:25-30
July 9, 2017
“… we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.”
In last Sunday’s Second Reading, St. Paul preached to the Romans about the contrast between life and death. He explained that Christian life is found within the experience of death: not just the death that occurs at the end of our earthly days, but daily death. In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul explores a related contrast: between the flesh and the spirit.
What does St. Paul mean when he states to the Romans: “You are not in the flesh”? Of course, no one would deny that Christians, as they make pilgrimage through life on this earth, journey within a human body. We all live with flesh and blood. The human body is an essential part of being human.
But when St. Paul insists that “You are not in the flesh”, he’s referring to the principle by which the pilgrim focuses his life. That is to ask, is gratification of the flesh’s five senses the motivating principle for the pilgrim’s choices? Or does that pilgrim live “in the spirit”, meaning that his choices seek to allow the Holy Spirit to rule—to give order and aim—to the pilgrim’s journey?
Throughout the Church’s history, this contrast between the flesh and the spirit has led to many heresies. St. Augustine of Hippo, a fifth-century bishop in northern Africa, spent many years before his baptism as a member of a sect based upon one such heresy. This group believed that the difference between flesh and spirit was not only a contrast, but a sharp division between evil and good. To grow in holiness meant to reject not only the flesh, but everything material.
What that heresy ignores is that “in the beginning”, God created the heavens and the earth and everything within them, both visible and invisible. Within the first chapter of Genesis, we hear that God “looked at everything He had made, and found it very good” [Gn 1:31]. Material things cannot be made evil. Only persons and their actions can be evil, by putting last things first. Material things are among the last that matter in life, because they will not last.
Material things need to be put in their place. This is the aim of a practice such as fasting. We don’t fast because food is evil. We fast to remind ourselves that as pleasing as food can be, it must be subordinated to God. We also fast to train our wills in the good habit of self-denial, so that the flesh of man can serve the Spirit of God with willing love.