A spiritual jingle
9 October 2022 28th Sunday Year C
Listen to Reflection
Have you ever memorised a song, a hymn, a saying, or motto? Advertising companies are paid huge dollars for jingles that stick in the minds of potential customers.
Associating the jingle with images on television linked to pleasant feelings allows the advertiser to join their product – say an energy drink – with memories of something you value. They thereby elicit a desire for their product. Not at all subtle but it often works.
St Paul wants to do something similar. He said, “This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
This is much like a wisdom saying – an apothegm or aphorism. Philosophers, ancient (Heraclitus) and modern (Nietzsche) are famous for writing like this. Great sages, mystics, and spiritual teachers of Eastern religions did and do very much the same. In this aphoristic style they want to pack as much content into as few words as possible in a way that is easy to memorise, like a jingle, and yet must be mulled over again and again. The more the saying is contemplated, the deeper the receiver realises it to be. The deeper the receiver enters the ideas of the saying, the more they are transformed by it.
It should be easy for us to trust that St Paul is offering us something worth meditating on. This saying is trustworthy, he says: what I am about to tell you is worth trusting, worth shaping your life by. And we would be right to think that what follows has something to do with our relation to Jesus Christ. The saying is composed of four conditional (if/then) statements. (1) if we have died with him we shall also live with him; (2) if we persevere we shall also reign with him; (3) but if we deny him he will deny us; (4) if we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
The first statement seems to recall the mystery of baptism where we undergo sacramental death and resurrection that joins us to Christ’s own. The second statement encapsulates the core meaning of salvation in the Christian sense: to live for Christ in this world leads to a share in his reign or rule – a partnership with him – in his eternal kingdom that will bring to fullness in us God’s original purpose in creating humanity. The third and fourth statements pair a warning, deeply consistent with the rest of the New Testament, with a promise that recognises our weakness and his merciful fidelity.
Memorise it. Ponder it. Learn to make your decisions by it. See what happens! St Paul gives us a well-rounded doorway into the mystery of our faith with this aphorism.
W Chris Hackett
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