The Readings for the memorial of St Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Itaque, fratres, non sumus ancillae filii, sed liberae : qua libertate Christus nos liberavit. State, et nolite iterum jugo servitutis contineri.
So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.
Paul does some strange things with his argument and I want it to be evident:
Abraham had two sons. God promised him a son, but because of human concupiscence, Abraham was impatient and slept with his slave woman, Hagar. She bore him a son. Then the promised child was born to his wife, Sarah. He drove out the slave woman, again because of human sin: his wife was jealous. But God saved that child as well. Of Sarah by Isaac came all the tribes of Israel. Of Hagar, the slave, came by way of Ishmael, all the gentile tribes of the middle east.
It should be evident that the Ishmaelite tribes of gentiles were not under the law of Moses while the Israelite tribes were under the law. Yet Paul uses these same tags of Israelites and Ishmaelites to describe the Freedom of Christians (Israelites) as compared to the slavery of those under the law (Ishmaelites). It’s an interesting rhetorical inversion, a literal head-over-heels, topsy-turvy place where suddenly Jews who reject Messiah become gentiles while the Gentiles who accept the Messiah are plugged into the New Covenant along with the Jews.
But Paul is making this argument to say Christians are not under the law…
One, however, would be a fool if one imagined that Paul is saying there are no rules for Christians. I’ve been a fool like that. My freshman year in College was spent at a small, evangelical Christian school in down-state New York. We had a pledge we had to sign, saying we’d not drink, dance, smoke, join secretive oath-bound organizations, or use traditional playing cards. (Those were the words… clearly playing poker with Tarot cards was fine… and while we were not allowed to join Greek-Letter fraternities, the number of professors/alumni/administrators who were Freemasons was actually astonishing.) So, we had this pledge. And in October of my freshman year I wrote a long letter to the student paper referencing – among other passages – this bit from Galatians to say we didn’t need to follow any rules.
I made the classic mistake of confusing Liberty in Christ for License to sin.
Sin is actually slavery. We are trapped in our own brains, in our own lusts, in our own desires. We cannot be the self-giving, the self-slaying, the self-sacrificing images of God that we’re intended to be. We are set free…
We are only free if we flow in the will of God. This is what Paul is saying. For the covenant of Sinai was the will of God – but no more. Paul invites his readers to move into the new covenant of freedom in the will of God. But not “there are no rules”.
Our modern Secularizers are telling us this. That religious rules that impact “freedom” (by which they mean license) must be done away with. They are seeking to enslave us to the world, the flesh, and the devil while calling evil things good, things of darkness as things of light.
The Men of Nineveh – who heard a few whispers from Jonah and repented – will rise up and condemn us, for we hear the preaching of God himself, and yet persist in our sins and even demand that the Church change to accommodate us.