Thursday of week 29 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 6:19-23

Today’s reading is an immediate continuation of yesterday’s and more or less repeats what was said then. Paul continues today the imagery of slavery and urges the Romans to switch from one kind to another. He knows how morally weak they are so he expresses himself in human terms which he knows are not a perfect analogy. As once they surrendered to the slavery of immorality and a lawlessness that only results in even more lawlessness, they now have to become the slaves of good behaviour which will result in their becoming more holy, more in the image of their God and Saviour. He realises there is some difficulty using the word ‘slave’ of Christians who are essentially free in Christ. Nor is he implying that in becoming slaves of immorality they are not responsible for the choices they make, any more than in submitting themselves totally to goodness in Christ. When they lived a life of sin, what did they really gain? All they got were experiences of which they are now deeply ashamed because, with Christ in their lives, they know that kind of sinful behaviour only brings death, spiritual death. He now switches the image somewhat. From being enslaved to sin and liberated in Christ, he speaks of them being now liberated from sin and enslaved to the service of God. But this enslavement, which is a commitment to the good, will bring about their sanctification and will terminate in life without end (another paradox). Slavery to God produces holiness, and the end of the process is life without end. There is no eternal life without holiness. Those who have been ‘justified’ will surely give evidence of that fact by the presence of holiness in their life. As has been said already, anyone who is truly ‘graced’ by the love of God must reveal that in the way they lead their lives. Jesus taught just that when he said that only a good tree can bear good fruit and vice versa. And again, that any branch that is on the Vine, which Christ is, will produce an abundance of fruit. The fruit-less branch will be cut off and thrown away. Then in a much-quoted phrase Paul again repeats his thesis: “The wage paid by sin is death.” On the other hand, “the gift freely given by God”, his love received as ‘grace’, means “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Two kinds of ‘slavery’ are contrasted. The slavery of sin brings death as wages, sin creates a debt to death. The slavery in faith to Christ as Lord brings life as an unearned, unmerited gift, the gift of life without end. To our modern way of thinking, slavery of any kind is not to be even considered. But slavery to God and goodness has totally different effects. It is only possible where there is total freedom, the freedom to be able to surrender oneself totally and unconditionally in the arms of the true, loving and beautiful God. No one is more alive than the one who give himself completely to God and makes God’s will entirely his own. And, of course, Paul is perfectly right. The wages of sin is indeed to slide inexorably into a deteriorating quality, and ultimately loss, of life. The gift, the unearned and totally gratuitous gift that God offers us of his love leads to a life that knows no end. This is the true freedom which brings happiness and perfect peace. It is for us to make the choice: to be sin’s slave or God’s.

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