Reflection for Friday, October 22, 1999: 29th week in Ordinary Time.
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Shanahan, Tom, S.J.
The first reading for today is from the deep and difficult letter of St. Paul to the Romans. Paul presents a kind of theological version of anthropology when he describes himself (and us) as conflicted by two different "laws" the law of God and the law of the flesh. He describes us as in a terrible fix because we are pushed around by the law of the flesh as opposed to the law of God.||The all-too-human complaint that I do not do the good that I want to do, but the evil that I do not intend is a reminder of the inner conflict that puts us in a state of war within ourselves. I am all too aware of the consequences of that conflict - because I am a sinner.|So the reading today asks us to look at a topic that we would rather not look at: sin. Many of us a schooled in a concept of sin that is, at its best, inadequate. We tend to see sin as a violation of a law. We can't blame Paul for this because that is not what he is saying even though he uses "law" words.|So, to understand adequately what sin is we need to trade our "law" vocabulary for something else. Sin is only superficially a violation of law. St. Paul is asking us to go pretty deep here. Do you remember Rev. Will B. Done from the comic strip Kudzu? He'd fulminate from the pulpit in REALLY BIG AND FANCY LETTERS and with arrows and fingers pointing to his words for emphasis! The good Rev. only looked impressive; he was really being superficial.|Not so, St. Paul! He's saying that sin has to do not merely with law but with our deepest relationship: the relationship with God. And, that God is not outside us and external to us. God is at the very depth of our being loving us and inviting us to love in return. To sin is not to violate an external law, but to violate the deepest relationship we have, the relationship in love with God.|It helps to think of sin, then, in more radical terms such as violating the love we have for a loved one. We all know that there are lots of things that need healing and forgiveness in our relationship with those we love, but the thought of doing something that would sever the relationship itself is really out of the question. Why? Because we carry the beloved in our heart - at the center of our being. To violate that love is, somehow, to violate our very selves.|Looked at this way, we recognize that God with his love and invitation for us to love in return is at the core and center of our being. The great God, the Creator of the Universe, loves and dwells in me! Awesome? Indeed it is! Sin, then, is the rejection of that love and that relationship with God.|To sin, then, is to rupture a relationship; not to violate a commandment. That puts it radically, doesn't it? Positively, it means that, because of the relationship of love and the depth of that relationship, I will do all in my power not to ruin the relationship. And negatively, if, as St. Paul suggests in his "law of the flesh" phraseology, I do harm the relationship, I can count on the mercy and forgiveness of the God who has put himself at the center of my being.|Sin, without a consideration of God's love, makes no sense. What it gets down to is that the concept of sin is not separated from the love of God. God's love is first, a motive for me not to violate the relationship God has established with me in love. And, second, that love of God is at the same time the very source of the mercy and forgiveness that follows my wandering away to obey the "law" that is within me (as Paul says) which opposes the love and friendship I have from and for God. Sin as "violation of a law" does not get me to that depth.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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