By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30
“…for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
One consciousness that scripture puts in our minds as believers is the fact that there is a constant struggle between the forces of good and evil, each trying to control the human person. These are also depicted as the spirit and the flesh. The force of good (Spirit) is of God, while the force of evil (flesh) is of the devil. The writings of Saint Paul, more than any other book of the bible, teach this truth severally. One example is the second reading of today’s Mass. In it, Saint Paul reminds us that by virtue of our union with Christ, especially through baptism, we are no longer people of the flesh but have become people of the Spirit. This does not mean that we no longer live in the flesh, but rather, that we are not controlled by the desires of the flesh. This is somewhat another rendition of what Jesus says of his disciples, that though they are in the world, they do not belong to the world (Jn 17:16) or as Saint Paul says elsewhere, that we must not be conformed to the standards of this world (Rom 12:2).
Specifically, today’s second reading says “if you live according to the works of the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” To understand what this means, we must first know what the works of the flesh are. The bible gives us an answer in Galatian 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness (sexual impurity such as pornography and masturbation), lewdness (vulgarity, profanity), idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, anger, selfishness, dissensions, heresies (factions), envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries (merry making), and the like; … those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Opposed to these works of the flesh are the works of the Spirit, which we popularly refer to as the fruits of the Holy Spirit. That same book of Galatians again gives us answers as to what the works of the Spirit are.
Galatians 5:22-23 says But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (generosity), faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.
Note: Words in parenthesis are mine
Something striking that stands out from these opposing lists of the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit is that both of them have implications for this life and the afterlife. As the second reading says, the works of the flesh produces death, and the works of the Spirit produces life. And a close look at the listed works will show that it is true. The word of God cannot lie!
In the gospel reading, Jesus says “come to me, you who are overburdened and I will give you rest…Take my yoke, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we understand this statement of Jesus in the light of this second reading, then we shall see how powerful and comforting this invitation is. Hear me and hear me well, child of God, if you are living by the works of the flesh, whether you realize it or not, there is a heavy burden on you. The good news however, is that Jesus has promised to give you rest if you come to him. The yoke of Jesus is what we have listed as the fruits of the Spirit. Anyone who lives by them shall indeed find rest for his/her soul. This is something that only the simple of heart can understand, and when we humble ourselves under the power of the Holy Spirit, then we shall understand and appreciate this truth. And as Jesus also says in the gospel reading, God has hidden this simple truth from the learned (arrogant) and revealed them to infants (humble). What this means therefore is that for repentance to happen, humility is required.
Today therefore, let us check ourselves, brethren. Take your Bible and list out these opposing works (of the flesh and of the Spirit). Truthfully look at the list and see how many of each you can identify in your life. For each of the works of the flesh you identify, ask God to give you the grace and courage to eliminate if from your life. If you are able to sincerely do this, then, as Jesus says in the gospel reading, you will find rest, not only for your souls but also for your physical, mental, social and emotional life.
We pray that God may grant us the grace of true repentance as we strive to replace the works of the flesh with the works/fruits of the Spirit. Amen