If you are led by the Spirit, no law can touch you. When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies and similar things. I warn you now, as I warned you before: those who behave like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. There can be no law against things like that, of course. You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.
Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit.
The Lord said to the Pharisees:
‘Alas for you Pharisees! You who pay your tithe of mint and rue and all sorts of garden herbs and overlook justice and the love of God! These you should have practised, without leaving the others undone. Alas for you Pharisees who like taking the seats of honour in the synagogues and being greeted obsequiously in the market squares! Alas for you, because you are like the unmarked tombs that men walk on without knowing it!
A lawyer then spoke up. ‘Master,’ he said ‘when you speak like this you insult us too.’
‘Alas for you lawyers also,’ he replied ‘because you load on men burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not move a finger to lift.’
What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control
There was a vacant pot of soil in my family’s apartment corridor garden. Once, after eating a delightfully sweet blood orange, I decided to lay two seeds in the soil. Then, I buried a random assortment of other seeds into this pot. This was a strange magpie instinct in me to hoard the seeds in my ‘pot of treasures,’ curiously waiting for what might erupt from the soil. When my dad found out, he laughed and called me ‘kooky’ for not even labeling them in separate pots. Who knew which would grow? What if the different seedlings strangle each other as they vied for root space?
It is a mysterious thing: how life forms, how nature pushes forth from the deep darkness of seeming nothingness but a single seed. Lo and behold, one sturdy stalk sprung forth and just kept on growing. It was anyone’s guess which plant it was. But we committed to water and watch it. Its leaves grew larger, its ring of branches began to exhibit a pattern of growth. So, from pot to bigger pot, dad then moved it to the common ground below my window. It was only two feet tall then. Left outside to grow, we learnt to surrender our tending and tilling to the aid of the elements. Stood the assault of wind and rain it did. Once, bending almost halfway down.
And so it goes, that the work of our hands is really both about the graces given by God in opportunities and talents, as well as the intention and effort we pour into our work. In today’s Galatians verse, it is no coincidence that each fruit of the Spirit is both a noun and a verb. It may be a given quality, but it too needs to be cultivated by action. This is what virtue is: in unequal parts nature and nurture, by God’s design.
So as the priest prays these words over the bread and wine on the Altar before they are consecrated to God and become transubstantiated as the Body and Blood of Christ:
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”
We recognise the mystery of our co-operation in God’s grace. As we have received the earth and seeds as gifts through God’s goodness, these wheat and grapes have grown from the earth by God’s blessing by the movements of Nature. At the same time, the bread and wine are indeed the work of human hands – through our tilling, cultivation, harvesting, threshing, milling, ingenuity and baking. It is the same when grapes are amazingly transformed into wine. Hence we offer to Him the fruit of our labours through our participation in His design, yet recognising that the very origin of these produce comes alone from His goodness.
Finally, in our offering on the Altar, we surrender to Him what we have worked on and created unto His Will. We return the true and divine Authorship of mystery unto the Lord, just as we cannot see nor comprehend how the first seeds of all manner of life first came to be, God shall transform this bread of life and spiritual drink yet again – mystically – into the real Body and Blood of Christ (John 6:53-56; Matthew 16:5-12).
We are collaborators with God in His work of creation. True spiritual fruits require both divine grace and human effort to become abiding virtues that stand the test of time.
Over the past months, the plant has grown taller than me. Its once small leaves now larger than my palm. Its green stalk browns now as it turns to a wider trunk. We don’t quite know which of the seeds this is. But certainly its flowers and fruits will tell.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Let us see the work of our hands as a means of worship and praise to the Lord. May our work be suffused with true virtue and charity. No work is too menial when offered for God’s delight.
Thanksgiving: We bless the Lord for giving us hope that the fruit of our work, when offered to God, is eternally significant.