Episode: Episode 12: Epiphany 5A: Worship and Freedom

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Episode 12: Epiphany 5A: Worship and Freedom

This week we reflect on the readings for this week in year A, which is the fifth Sunday in Epiphany: Isaiah 58:1-12, 1 Corinthian 2:1-16 and Matthew 5:13-20.

Show Notes:

Peace in the universe through peace with God, the union of above and below—that is how we can describe the essential intention of worship in all the world’s religions. But this basic definition of the attributes of worship is marked concretely by an awareness of man’s fall and estrangement. Of necessity it takes place as a struggle for atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation. The awareness of guilt weighs down on mankind. Worship is the attempt to be found at every stage of world history to bring back the world and one’s own life into right order.And yet an immense feeling of futility pervades everything. This is the tragic face of human history. How can man again connect the world with God? How is he supposed to make valid atonement? The only real gift man should give to God is himself. As his religious awareness becomes more highly developed, so his awareness that any gift but himself is too little, in fact absurd, becomes more intense. Historically, this sense of inadequacy has been the source of grotesque and horrific forms of cult. The most extreme example is human sacrifice. Superficially, it seems to give the deity what is best, and yet more deeply it has to be seen as the most horrific evasion of the gift of self, the most horrific and therefore the most to be rejected. Thus, as religion becomes more highly developed, this terrible attempt at atonement is more and more discarded, but it also becomes clearer that in all worship it is not the real gift but a mere replacement that is given. The sacrificial system of all the world's religions, including Israel's, rests on the idea of representation- but how can sacrificial animals or the fruits of harvest represent man, make expiation for him? This is not representation but replacement, and worship with replacements turns out to be a replacement for worship. Somehow the real thing is missing.
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of The Liturgy

The Messiah was expected to bring a renewed Torah—his Torah. Paul may be alluding to this in the Letter to the Galatians when he speaks of the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). His great, passionate defense of freedom from the Law culminates in the following statement in chapter 5: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). But when he goes on to repeat at 5:13 the claim that “you were called to freedom,” he adds, “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (Gal 5:13). And now he explains what freedom is—namely, freedom in the service of good, freedom that allows itself to be led by the Spirit of God. It is precisely by letting oneself be led by God’s Spirit, moreover, that one becomes free from the Law. Immediately after this Paul details what the freedom of the Spirit actually consists in and what is incompatible with it.

The “law of Christ” is freedom—that is the paradox of Paul’s message in the Letter to the Galatians. This freedom has content, then, it has direction, and it therefore contradicts what only apparently liberates man, but in truth makes him a slave. The “Torah of the Messiah” is totally new and different—but it is precisely by being such that it fulfills the Torah of Moses.

The greater part of the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:17–7:27) is devoted to the same topic...
-Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration

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