Readings: Zach 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Matt 11:25-30
Living not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; living not as debtors of the flesh, but under the yoke of obedience, having a “joint account” with Jesus. The readings this Sunday help us to understand the value of living by the Spirit of Christ. Saint Paul in the Second Reading shows us the difference between living by the spirit and living by the flesh. The words that captured my imagination in Paul’s Letter to the Romans are the following: “Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” Mark Twain, the great American humorist once described a banker as “a person who loans you an umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the moment it starts raining!” (cf. The Quotations Page website) While Mark Twain was trying to be humorous, his description might help us to understand what Saint Paul means by being “debtors to the flesh.” One of the most foolish things we can do is to take a “loan” from the devil. Some people even try to bargain with the devil. They may only want just some gratification; just a little fun – like trying illicit drugs just once, or some forbidden pleasure just once! The devil however is a clever and cruel banker. Once a person has taken out the smallest loan, the devil demands interest and charges in terms of guilt feelings, sadness, anger, misery and eventually bitterness and despair. When the devil takes us that far, he forecloses our debt and takes over our souls. Does that sound familiar?
That is why Saint Paul warns us to owe no debt to the flesh, to devil. What exactly does Paul mean when he speaks of “the flesh” as opposed to “the spirit?” By the word “flesh” Paul refers to our weak human nature; our human desires that continually pull us down. Because of our human nature, we are either advancing towards God or sliding backwards away from God. The devil being a clever fellow, tries to manipulate our weak human nature. At times the devil gives us a loan we cannot pay back and then we are stuck; we are trapped; we are enslaved by that debt burden, like some third world countries who now seek debt cancellation from the IMF and the World Bank. However, for us Christians there is Good News regarding our debt. Thanks be to God, his Son Jesus Christ is capable of paying off our debt burden. God in his Son Jesus Christ has cancelled our debt. The best way to understand how God in Christ cancels our debt is to imagine having a “joint account” with Jesus who offers us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer debtors to the flesh, but living by the Spirit. That gift of the Spirit is offered only to the little ones; those who by God’s grace become better versions of themselves. That state of life comes from the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. It was out of this innocence and intimate relationship with the Father, that Jesus was able to overcome death and all powers of the flesh. It is in this sense that Jesus in the Gospel invites us saying: "Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." In other words Jesus invites those burdened by the yoke of the flesh and disobedience to embrace the yoke of the Spirit and obedience to His Word. They will then find relief from their burden and debt. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings invite us to live by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, so that we may have life in him as his faithful disciples and stewards; 2) It is only by living in Christ that Christ can cancel our debt burden and lead us to live by his Spirit; 3) We pray for God’s grace that we may live by the Spirit and resist taking any “loan from the devil.” Think about it.
©2017 John S. Mbinda