Thursday of Week 29 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 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 with 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.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness, leading to even more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification.

They will become 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 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 wages of sin is death…

But of course:

…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Two kinds of ‘slavery’ are contrasted. The slavery of sin brings death as its wage; 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 gives himself or herself completely to God and makes God’s will entirely their 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 by 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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