Not Debtors to the Flesh

(Homily for Fourteenth Ordinary Sunday - Year A)

Bottom line: Because of Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit, we are not debtors to the flesh.

This weekend we celebrate the Fourth of July - the United States' Independence Day. I would like to begin with a quote from the great American humorist - Mark Twain. Evidently he was constantly in and out of debt because he gave this definition of a banker: "A banker," said Mark Twain, "is a man who loans you an umbrella when the sun is shining and demands it back the moment it starts to rain."

Well, Mark Twain was, no doubt, unfair to bankers. However, his definition does fit well with what Saint Paul tells us today. He warns about becoming "debtors to the flesh." One of the most foolish things a person can do is to take a "loan" from the devil.

A lot of people try to bargain with the devil, especially today. They want some small gratification - a bit of porn or gambling, a little overindulgence in sleep or food or alcohol. Maybe just to try once some illicit drug or some forbidden pleasure. But the devil is a cruel banker. Once a person takes out even the smallest loan, the enemy demands interest. The interest he charges is this: sadness, anger, harsh judgments - and eventually even bitterness and despair. When the devil gets a person to that point, he forecloses...on a one's soul.

St. Paul advises us to owe no debt to the flesh, to the devil. I should clarify that when Paul speaks about "the flesh," he is referring not to muscles and vital organs, but to unredeemed human nature - the downward pull of our desires.* Because of our fallen human nature, we never stay in one place. We are either moving toward God or we are sliding backwards. That is the law of the "flesh," our unredeemed nature, which the devil so easily manipulates.

Like an unscrupulous loan shark, the devil has trapped us, enslaved us, with debt we have no means to pay.** It is so large that you could compare it to the U.S. National Debt. I read that our government currently owes over nine trillion dollars and that our indebtedness increases around 1.3 billion dollars a day. I don't understand those figures. Someone explained that it means a debt of over thirty thousand dollars for every man, woman and child in our country. A child born in this country automatically becomes an American - which is great - but that same child also automatically inherits a debt.

I mention the national debt in order to make a comparison. Along with the all the good things we have received as Americans, we have inherited a debt. Similarly, along with all the good things we have received as human beings, we have inherited another debt. It is the debt of sin. It came from our first parents and it led to a long history of war, greed and cruelty. But you and I are not innocent bystanders - we have racked up our share of guilt. Like the national debt, the burden of original sin seems unfair - but there is a bright side. Thanks be to God, someone can pay off the debt of sin. His name is Jesus. That is the reason St. Paul states that we are not debtors to the flesh. We owe nothing to the flesh because we have received the Holy Spirit. Now, that is good news.

In the coming year, as part of our parish Stewardship effort, we are going offer guidance to young people - and older people too - who have gotten enmeshed in debts. It is horrible to be drowning in debt, but what a beautiful feeling to pay off a high interest loan: to get out of debt - or at least have a plan for becoming debt free. Well, today Jesus offers you something even better: freedom from one's debt to the flesh.

This Sunday Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you." Christ wants to partner with you and me. It is like Bill Gates offering a joint bank account. Only a fool would turn down that offer.*** This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. Above all, we want independence, freedom from the flesh and the devil. Jesus offers us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because of him, we are not debtors to the flesh.


*The word "flesh" (sarx) also has a positive sense: St. Paul refers to the Jewish people as "my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3) and tells husbands to never harm one's wife because she is "his own flesh." (Eph 5:29) And of course Jesus solemnly declares that we must "eat the flesh of the Son of Man" (Jn 6:53) in order to attain eternal life.

**The devil is deceptive, but we really do not need to fear him. St. Paul says that "we are not debtors to the flesh." If we are united with Christ, we have a "capital reserve" large enough to pay off any debt. That reserve is the Holy Spirit. "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

***"No thanks, Bill. Keep your money. I'll just keep writing bad checks. I prefer doing things my way."

General Intercessions for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)

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From Archives (for Fourteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2017: Spiritual Warfare Week 3: The Yoke of Jesus
2014: Life in the Spirit Week 1
2011: Take My Yoke
2008: Not Debtors to the Flesh
2005: The Real Revolution
2002: Come to Me You Who Are Burdened
1999: Where are the Catholic Politicians?

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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