Are we free from traditions and unwritten laws?
Exodus 34:29-end; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4.2; Luke 9:28-36
Today, the readings are about a number of extraordinary individuals: Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and even, Paul, and how they have shaped us. But I would like to start with some of these extraordinary people closer that are closer to home.
First, my grandmother. Born in 1920 near Berne, Switzerland, in a wealthy family, her destiny changed when her mother decided to get divorced. It was unheard of at the time, in particular in rural Switzerland. Her mother taking her children with her chose to go into exile into the French speaking area of Lausanne to avoid further castigation in their native county.
My grandmother was a pariah in school because she was the daughter of a divorcee. The family wealth had gone as it was then the law that the man would keep all the wealth, including what the wife had inherited. Her dream was to go to university but she couldn’t as no one would support her financially.
So she decided to become a tailor. Again, she could not be admitted to an apprenticeship because she was not from the right family. So she worked hard for very little money. Throughout her life she fought for workers’ rights. She worked her way up and eventually became a lecturer at the local tailoring school, wearing the trousers at home. The only man she had the confidence to marry was blind and partially deaf. She managed to reach her nineties (she’s almost 93!), surviving two of her three children (my mother being the only one alive).
My father too, born in France of a Swiss father and a Polish mother, grew up as a foreigner during the Second World War. German, my grandfather’s native language, was of course not spoken at home for the fear of reprisals. Unwilling to fight the Algerian war, holding onto his Swiss passport, my father deserted the French army, choosing exile to Switzerland. His greatest hope was to study at university but like my grandmother he couldn’t.
You probably don’t have to be a psychotherapist to guess how the life stories of my parents and grandparents have shaped my life so far. I certainly did go to university, and that was a given – no respite at home unless I was first in class. Social and economic justice remains high on my list of what I feel strongly about. And I am too an immigrant in a foreign country.
Experiences made by previous generations lead to unwritten rules that unconsciously guide us in our daily lives. We are not truly free to be who we want to be because our identity is tied to both what past generations have handed onto us through nature and nurture. This is why – I would argue – that we simply cannot judge others because ultimately, they are not responsible for what was passed on to them and have little choice in the decisions they make, both good and bad.
In the gospel story, we see the disciples acknowledging Jesus as a successor to Moses and Elijah, clearly being part of the same family. To them, this family was a Judeo-Jewish affair, and Jesus would continue the traditions handed over to Moses. But Luke already seems to announce that Christ was more than just another prophet. God says: “This is my Son, my Chosen one; listen to him!” Luke, in his gospel, mostly portrays Christ as a continuation of Jewishness with some hints that the Good News will be shared with the Gentiles, the story of which he covers in Acts.
Descending from the pulpit. Paul enters the scene in a state of disbelief, slightly angry but rather distraught and exasperated that people still follow the law
– “Hang on a minute! Are you blind? Are your faces veiled? Are you still following Moses’ law? Why? Does it bring you comfort? Is it because you then know what is right and what is wrong?
Do you realise that by choosing to follow the law, you are bound by it! You are condemned by it! Sacrifices will not get you anywhere anymore.
Christ died because of our sinfulness – we put him on the cross! But Christ rose again, our sinfulness and death conquered, his righteousness vindicated.
We can be free from sinfulness. How then, can still want to go back to the law? Was Christ’s sacrifice for nothing?”
Return to narrator style
I wonder what Paul would tell me, but probably that I didn’t have to follow the unwritten laws of my family either. I didn’t necessarily have to go to university, I don’t have to care about social and economic justice, maybe that I didn’t have to emigrate. That the hopes of my grandparents and parents did not matter, and only following Christ did. I certainly experience this as part of the discernment for vocation, having to let go and give up much.
And what would he tell each of you?
Finally, what would he tell the Church? Would he not question some of the traditions, asking to let go? Would he not, as he did then, proclaim a gospel of inclusion? I wonder what he would say about the current debates on women bishops and gay marriage, whether he would not ask to leave traditions behind to enable further inclusion.
The question remains for all of us, and this is what I would like to end this sermon with: “Are we still bound by the laws of our ancestors, or have we got the freedom to be who we are called to be in Christ?”