Sunday, 4 March 2018

Mortify the Old Man, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
Our second reading, from St Paul to the Corinthians, contained one of the most quoted verses of the New Testament: “We preach Christ crucified”(1 Cor 1:23).
St Paul then spoke of how scandalous the cross was: “to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness”(1 Cor 1:24).

I’d like us to focus on why, “Christ crucified” is sheer “madness”, or “folly” as some translations put it.
The message of the Cross is that the “new man” (Rom 6:6), namely, Christ, is so radically better than the “old man” that the “old man must be crucified with Him”(Rom 6:6).
For those rooted in THIS world, who think that THIS world is all there is, then the message that we must put it to death is “madness”.

Yet the New Testament tells us,
you must “put to death what belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5),
you must “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13),
that "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the old nature with its desires and passions” (Gal 5:24).
The "the old man" (Col 3:9, Eph 4:22, Rom 6:6)
“of the flesh” (Col 2:11)
“of sin” and “of death” (Rom 6:6; 7:24),
The old man must die.
You cannot have both the old and the new, as the Lord said: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit (Jn 12:24). 

The Lord Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money (Mt 6:24).
“Whoever would save his life must lose it; and whoever would lose his life will save it” (Mt 16:24).

The scriptural word for the change that must happen to us is “mortification” (c.f. Col 3:5)
-the putting to death of the old man.
This is not a single act, but a process, and it’s to this process that we are dedicated in Lent.
There are three things in “the old man” that the Catholic tradition identifies as needing to be put to death:
The will, the imagination, and the flesh.

My imagination needs to be habitually controlled
if I am to re-direct what my heart yearns for.
My flesh needs to be trained, controlled, re-made,
by the process of fasting and self-denial we enter upon in Lent
-this is why we give things up in this season, to remake our fallen nature.
My will, in all things, needs to have the old man within it subdued.
I put my will to death every time I say ”no” to myself.
I want the chocolate, and I say “no”.
I want to be lazy and do nothing, and I say “no”.
I want to be selfish rather than focus on the needs of someone else, and I say “no”.
If my will is to be habituated to the good, to serving others, to putting God first,
then I need to learn to say ”no” to myself, say “no” to my will.
“Unless you take up your cross daily, you cannot be my disciple”(Mt 16:24)

As I started by quoting, for those who live with their heart set on this world, this is “madness”.
But it is only by tearing down the old that the new might come.
“Tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19) .

And this is why Christians must always people of the Cross.

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