5th Sunday of Lent
Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for is the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.
One of the most difficult moments in our lives – and it must happen to each of us at an early age – is when we realise we are not ‘the best’ at everything. That there is someone who can run faster; who can jump higher; whose handwriting is better; who can do maths faster. And that realisation will – or should – follow us. That sometimes, we fall short.
It is this feeling, but in the moral dimension, that St. Paul is trying to get at in this Sunday’s 2nd reading. He states very clearly that he has accepted that he cannot achieve moral perfection under his own efforts. “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law“. What perfection is this? “The Law” is the “Law of Moses” – the Jewish Torah.
In the Jewish faith at the time of the new Church, and indeed today, obedience to God is the sign of being a Jew. Following the Commandments and rules that are drawn from the first 5 books of (what we woudl call) the Old Testemant: Genisis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy is what sets the nation of Isreal apart. ‘The Law’ is the sign of the relationship with God.
But St. Paul has, and is trying to explain to the new Churhc in Phillipi, that this is not the sign of a relationship with Christ. Now we need more. We must, instead, search for “…the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith“. Our relationship with God is founded on and marked by our faith in God – the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
But yet – Paul is cautious in this. he acknowledges that while we can come to perfection in Christ he “…has not won yet”. But he is focussed on the task at hand. It is won, not by following rules for their own sake but by having faith in Christ.
So…what does that mean for us today? We have rules to follow in the name of ‘faith’ – Lent more times than most. What’s the point? What Paul warns against is thinking that just following the rules is enough…we must follow the rules out of love of Chirst. We follow the rules and directions of the Church not to get ‘Catholic Points’ that build up our Salvation-meter that gets us to heaven. No!
We follow the guidence of the Church our of love of Christ and his Church. Because those rules assist us in building our faith – through fasting, through prayer or through compelling us to care for and act for others. The rules alone – from the Pope or even from God himself are not enough when God has asked us to form a direct relationship with him directly. “All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come“.