Faith Beyond Obedience

Galatians 3:1-5

St. Paul in the First Reading is a ball of fire today. He doesn’t mince any words.  Imagine as a Galatian, having him as a preacher.  The first words of his sermon are, “You stupid Galatians….”  I imagine he got their attention.  But once we look beyond his bluster, the message behind his tirade should remind us all that faith is a gift, and we should welcome the opportunity we’ve been given to receive it, and spread it to others.


Obedience to God is most definitely an important part of the Christian life, but should it be what we consume ourselves with?  Many Catholics, because of the way that they were taught in years gone by, became convinced, rightly or wrongly, that God would love and approve of them only if they were completely obedient. That left many hyper-focused on God’s judgement of them and left them with the feeling that they would never be good enough. It’s impossible to do everything right all the time.


God, in his complete and total love for us, sets us free, by showing us what obedience to God really is in Jesus.  A deeper dive into the scriptures not only backs up his teachings, but brings an even deeper revelation and freedom from trying harder to please him with obedience.


Doing everything the "right" way is wrong without true faith - that is without a deep, abiding love for God, and for everyone else - even the people who annoy us the most. Doing everything the "right" way by obeying Church rules without love is… legalism. And to the legalists Paul doubles down his bluster in the first reading, saying: "How could you be so stupid?"


Today’s Gospel passage tells us how to receive true faith. The parable is not an invitation to ask for all the stuff we want.  Yes, Jesus says, "Whoever asks, receives", but that comment is immediately followed by the promise of what we're guaranteed to receive: the Holy Spirit.


If we have God's Spirit living within us, then we want only that which is holy and good. So accordingly, we'll only ask for whatever God wants us to receive. And as the Gospel tells us, we’ll get it, including true faith.


If we think about it, it's actually pretty easy to practice "the faith" legalistically when we don't have an active relationship with the Holy Spirit. In fact, in a legalistic practice of the faith, we’re free to make up rules as we go along.  It’s God's Spirit that makes our faith real and turns our obedience of Church laws into acts of love.


Why did Jesus use the example of asking for bread in the Gospel?  Because Jesus is the Bread of Life and he wants us to be distributors of that bread. We all know people who are hungry for true faith. If we don’t let the Holy Spirit transform us into the Eucharistic Bread of Life that we receive at Mass, we can’t go out and share Jesus with others.


Our faith, in and of itself, is inadequate to satisfy their hunger.  We don't have enough Jesus in us to lead them to conversion- we’re only designed to be the conduits. Faith is a gift that can only emanate from God.


Legalism gives us nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing that we have been obedient. This only feeds us until we fail. True faith gives us the satisfaction of turning our failures into victories, increasing God's holiness within us.  What we need to do is nurture our faith through prayer and give it room to grow through obedience.


So, let us go through this day knocking at the door a little more purposefully, asking for more of the Holy Spirit's life in our lives so that we can live our lives more supported by faith, growing in our faith, and encouraging others to live by faith as well.  When we do, we can live with the conviction of knowing that this particular door that we are approaching will in fact be opened for us!


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