This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Galatians 5:18-25
18 But when you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality,
20 the worship of false gods and sorcery; antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, 21 factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things. And about these, I tell you now as I have told you in the past, that people who behave in these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 On the other hand the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control; no law can touch such things as these. 24 All who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with all its passions and its desires. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let our behaviour be guided by the Spirit.
The translation here represents a problem with Paul’s language: the Greek word translated “self-indulgence” is “sarkos” meaning flesh. Now, it is true that Paul uses this word to designate a fundamental dimension of human living, rather than simply the body and opposed to the soul or spirit. He does not hate the body, as he was interpreted as doing by commentators in previous centuries. He seems to mean “the human being without God” perhaps almost, “the human being as opposed to God”, but there’s no point in pretending that he doesn’t use the word, “flesh”. He’s suggesting that those who limit themselves, body soul and spirit, to their physical existence allow that physical existence to become a power that controls them. “Flesh” is a demonic option for human living. This is not comforting to modern sensibilities which emphasise the innate goodness of human existence per se. Paul believes that although the Creator made humanity good, we no longer live in that goodness, but in the sin of Adam, the archetypal human. Left to ourselves, we are flesh and will do evil. In order to change we have to be drawn into the harsh love of Christ in which the “flesh” is crucified. You don’t hear this from too many preachers.
“Flesh” dominates us, and works evil through us, as Paul describes. The Spirit, on the other hand, enables us to grow, and produces good fruit.
Paul’s exploration of our humanity is complex and profound.
Gospel, Luke 11:42-46
42 But alas for you Pharisees, because you pay your tithe of mint and rue and all sorts of garden herbs and neglect justice and the love of God! These you should have practised, without neglecting the others.
43 Alas for you Pharisees, because you like to take the seats of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted respectfully in the market squares!
44 Alas for you, because you are like the unmarked tombs that people walk on without knowing it!’
45 A lawyer then spoke up. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘when you speak like this you insult us too.’46 But he said, ‘Alas for you lawyers as well, because you load on people burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not touch with your fingertips.
We are not to imagine that all Pharisees and religious lawyers were like this. Still, it does give us a picture of religious hypocrisy which comforts the hearts of all who are exposed to its power, such as victims of sexual abuse by priests, and those damaged by right-wing fundamentalist thugs in Moslem and Christian countries.
More insidious perhaps are those who seem gentle and holy while fulfilling essentially trivial religious exercises to the exclusion of justice and the love of God. The inclusion of so much of Jesus’ criticism of Pharisees and scribes in the gospels, is evidence that the gospel writers considered this type of hypocrisy a permanent danger for religious people.