Today’s reflection is written by Dwayne Fernandes, Director of Spirituality, New Ways Ministry.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found by clicking here.
One of the most disturbing chapters of my childhood still haunts me.
It was late evening one day when my best friend knocked on the door. “I need your help,” he whispered. “I want you to make a deep gash in my arm. I can’t go home so late and I need a good excuse. If I went home bloodied, I can say that I was caught in a knife-fight and delayed.”
He was so determined in his efforts that he went into my bathroom, unwrapped the paper sleeve off one of my razor blades and sterilized the metal over an open flame. He asked for some antiseptic liquid, which he sloshed liberally over his arm. With a weak smile he encouraged, “You can do it!”
During this entire time, I was mentally paralyzed and terrified of what I was being asked to do. I held the razor blade in my hand, still warm from the fire, while he placed his arm firmly on the table. I hovered over his skin unsure of what to do. I remember him saying, “don’t think about it, just make a quick slit.”
My best friend was raised in a household with stringent rules and consequences for disobedience that were unforgiving. Having a gash in his arm was preferable to whatever other punishment awaited him for this infraction.
In today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we come face to face with a similar, unforgiving reality: “If you obey God, you will prosper. If you disobey, you will perish.” To be obedient to the Mosaic Law meant keeping not just the 10 Commandments, but a total of 613 laws.
In verses 1 and 2, Moses puts forth statutes and decrees so that the Israelites may live and take possession of the land. A few generations earlier, though, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law but on his iconic faith, as is described in Romans 4:13.
In Romans 4:15, Saint Paul explains, “The law forever holds the potential for punishment. Only when there is no law can there be no violation.” The Mosaic Law, in principle, brought on God’s judgement and wrath because this was God’s perfect law given to imperfect people. With such a high moral bar, no one could keep the Law and thus sinned all the more. It was only in Jesus that the perfect sacrifice was rendered by the One who knew no sin, once and for all.
The Law was given through Moses, but Grace – the gift of an intimate relationship with God – came through Christ (John 1:17). With this New Covenant, humanity was now freed from the burden of the Law to trust in God’s Spirit to create the perfect desire in us to bear good fruit (Philippians 2:13).
When I read some of Pope Francis’ statements about LGBTQ life, I feel mentored by a pontiff who I believe is led by Grace. Pope Francis is someone unafraid to pass over calcified tradition in favor of focusing on developing a right relationship with God. His courage in supporting civil unions to give those in same-gender relationships the right to a family, his invitation to the transgender community to receive Covid -19 vaccines at the Vatican, and his personal blessings on those who minister to the LGBTQ community are select examples of Abrahamic Faith at work. When he distanced himself from the Vatican ban on same-gender blessings, the world, once again, witnessed Grace. By his every action and by his every word, the Pope seems to reiterate to the LGBTQ community, “Come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).
Then I see belligerent Catholic officials fighting so hard to keep the law, especially in regards to LGBTQ morality, and I wonder if they aren’t still living under the old covenant, holding onto absolute and lofty laws that no one, including themselves, can keep. To this pomposity, Saint Paul forewarns, “You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? It says in scripture, “It is because of you that the name of God is blasphemed among the other nations”” (Romans 2:23-24).
On that horrible night during my youth, my best friend went home without a bloodied arm. I could not slash him open. I tremble, though, when I think of what might have happened and I am grateful to my family for the faith they placed in me as they raised me, very different from my best friend’s family.
That mustard seed of faith became my Abrahamic Faith and I’ve walked in Grace ever since, redeemed from the scourge of the Law.
—Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry, August 29, 2021