Tuesday of Week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 8:18-25

Another wonderful outburst from Paul! He has just been describing the difficulties that we face from the negative forces of our lower nature. Now he looks forward in hope not only for Christians but for the whole of the created world.

Today’s reading is an immediate continuation of yesterday’s. At the end of that reading, Paul had said we would be regarded as:

…joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him…
(Rom 8:17)

He begins today’s reading by saying that no matter how much we may suffer in this life, it is as nothing compared to the future glory which will be made known to us. And this is true not only for Christians, because:

…creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…

That revelation will take place at the Final Judgement when the true followers of Jesus (including, we might say, “anonymous Christians”) will be revealed and then the rest of creation will join them in glory.

Paul’s thinking is that the material world, originally created for Man, shares his destiny. After the sin in the Garden, the material world was also cursed. Yahweh said to the Man and the Woman:

…cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life… (Gen 3:17)

The material world is now deformed, impotent and decadent. However, like man’s body, it is destined one day to be redeemed, restored and glorified. It will share the same glorious freedom of the children of God.

For many of the Greek philosophers, too, matter was seen as evil and the human spirit must be delivered from it. Especially in the form of Gnosticism, it had great influence on Christian thinking. It was a movement which the early Christians had to resist. So Paul is saying that not only are those in Christ set free and destined to share in the glory of God, but that the whole of material creation will also have this experience. The whole mystery of the Incarnation is an affirmation of the inherent goodness of all created things:

And the Word became flesh (John 1:14)

There were some Christians who were not happy with this and wanted to reduce Christ’s humanity to mere appearance.

This “frustration” imposed on creation did not arise from creation itself, but either as the result of man’s sinful behaviour or as part of the punishment which God imposed on Man. The natural abundance of the Garden is replaced by a world which made Man have to work very hard to make his living. But, just as all creation suffered because of Man’s sin, so it will be freed from its slavery to corruption and decay and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God.

In fact, the whole of creation, like a mother-to-be “has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor” awaiting its liberation. But not only creation, but:

…we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Although Christians, as the “first-fruits of the Spirit”, are already beginning their new life of freedom in Christ, they are waiting for the final resurrection, the final stage of their adoption, the ultimate liberation when there will be no more tears, no more pain or suffering.

We, too, even though we are blessed with the gift of the Spirit through our incorporation by baptism in the Body of Christ, also await the final liberation of our bodies when there will be no more distress or suffering. As we pray in the Third Eucharistic Prayer:

Welcome into your Kingdom…all who have left this world in your friendship. There we hope to share in your glory, when every tear will be wiped away. On that day, we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you forever through Christ our Lord.

Our link with that future is hope:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what one already sees?

Hope is an integral part of faith. Faith and hope are based on what cannot yet be seen. But this faith-filled hope expresses an attitude of confidence that promises will be kept. It is not just a wait-and-see attitude. On the contrary, we live our lives on the basis that what we hope for in faith is true and real.

Hope is the basis of our faith. Hope here is not a desire that something may happen. It is a conviction, arising from our total trust in God’s love, that our final liberation and the liberation of all creation is a certainty. But, as Paul reminds us at the end of today’s passage:

But if we hope for what we do not see [yet], we wait for it with patience.

We cannot speak of hoping for something which is already within our grasp.

We do not know the how or the when, but we live in this constant trust that God will not disappoint our deepest longings. At the same time, experience – our own and that of many other committed Christians – has shown that much of what we hope for is confirmed by our living the Gospel as faithfully as we can. The signs are a sense of inner joy, consolation and peace.

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