SUNDAY’S READINGS | August 29

Song 2:8-13 or Deut. 4:1-2, 6-9
Ps. 45:1-2, 7-10 or Ps. 15

James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Entering the land of promise, that is, the promised gift of life in Jesus Christ, we enter a vast region of freedom. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is of everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Life in Christ is a meeting of two freedoms, the perfect freedom of God and the freedom of human persons. And because the freedom of each person preserves the freedom of others, an ordered life is necessary, what St. James calls “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25).

So, there are rules even for those born of the Spirit, a few of which are these: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; rid yourselves of sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls; be doers of the word; bridle your tongue; care for orphans and widows, keep yourself unstained from the world. These rules are not a letter that kills, but Spirit and life.

The landscape we enter in the Spirit is also an inner life, the heart, and here too, freedom requires care and vigilance. Jesus warns, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come; fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). The freedom Christ gives is a freedom for the well-being of others and the restoration of our inner lives. So a “law of liberty” is necessary, even welcomed, precisely because it preserves liberty.

A danger must be acknowledged. It is possible so to emphasize outward observance that “human precepts” become hardened into “doctrines” without regard for human well-being or the necessity, from time to time, of making an exception. In this case, each person is quick to notice the offense of another person, and, so judging, their heart is far from God (John 1:1-8). Freedom, then, is lost, and the law is no longer a law of liberty. It is also possible to sit in constant judgment over one’s inner life in such a way that all spontaneity is lost. In this case, the “examined life” is dry and joyless, ponderous and bitter.

It is a question of balance. Outward observance and inward vigilance are to serve corporate and personal freedom, that is to say, the true liberty we have in Christ.

Another mark of true freedom is the mysterious love between Christ and the Church. Calling us to new life, Christ is always saying, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song. 2:10-13). The Father declares the Son “beloved,” and, in Christ, we are the beloved and beautiful sons and daughters of God. If we are ashamed of this, we are ashamed of the Gospel.

Christ calls us to freedom and love. We need help; we need rules; we need to be vigilant over our inner lives, but we should not quench the Spirit of love and liberty.

Look It Up: Psalm 45:1

Think About It: Christ is a noble song of love.