Thursday of week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 8:31-39

In recent readings, having moved from the powerful forces, which keep preventing us from doing the good, we went to the firm hope of a glorious future. Paul now moves another step in reminding us of the inalienable love that God has for each one of us.

It is put dramatically right in the first sentence: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It is clearly a rhetorical question. The form of the condition makes it clear that there is no doubt about the answer. It is a question that requires no answer for it is clear that God is always for us – one hundred percent all the time. Of course, whether we are always for him is another matter altogether. Even then he reaches out to us in love. God is love; he cannot not love.

And, if we do have any doubts, then we just have to look at Jesus. “Since he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the sake of all of us, then can we not expect that with him he will freely give us all his gifts?” If God could sacrifice the One closest to him, the One who shares his very nature, can there be any doubt that he will deny giving us every other good thing? The cross is the guarantee of our preciousness in God’s eyes. And God will not want to see the work begun on the cross frustrated. It is important to remember all this especially in times of trouble.

“Who then can bring any accusation against those that God has chosen? When God grants saving justice, who can condemn? (from Isaiah 50:8)” How could anyone accuse us, when we have on our side Christ Jesus who died as a pledge of his love for us and, more than that, was raised from the dead and now sits at the Father’s right hand pleading on our behalf?

And there comes another rhetorical question: “Is there anything whatever that can separate us from the love of Christ?” And he is speaking of Christ’s love for us, not our love for him. No level of hardships or distress, persecutions, lack of food and clothing, or threats of violence can negate the reality of that love. We need to remember that at this time the Christians, not least in Rome, were being faced with violent opposition and persecution. It will soon be the age of martyrs, including Peter and Paul themselves. Apart from that, Paul could speak of the long list of hardships he himself experienced in this missionary work, some of which he tells us about in his Second Letter to the Christians at Corinth (2 Cor 11:16-33).

Paul wants to show his readers that suffering does not separate believers from Christ nor is a sign of his losing interesting in them but actually can carry them along toward their ultimate goal. In the eyes of their persecutors it seems like their defeat. In the eyes of pagans it must have looked like failure. But it is the martyr who lives on in people’s memories. And Paul quotes from Psalm 44:

For your sake we are being massacred all day long,
treated as sheep to be slaughtered.

Suffering is nothing new to God’s people and, as long as we are faithful to the call of the Gospel and are committed to sharing the message with others, there will be more to come. And it is precisely the love of Christ shown on the cross that enables us to come triumphantly through all kinds of hardships.

“In all this,” affirms Paul, “we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us.” Just as Jesus conquered by his own death in shame and degradation, we also can do the same. In fact, as Hebrews says, it was through his obedient acceptance of suffering and death that he was made perfect. It was the conquest of love. For us it must be the same.

He concludes with a rallying cry for all those who may be suffering for their faith and indeed for every one of us. “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The ‘powers’, ‘heights’ and ‘depths’ are probably the mysterious cosmic forces which to the mind of antiquity were in general hostile to mankind. None of these powers nor any other created thing whatever can come between us and God’s loving reach. There is, in other words, absolutely no force, however powerful, no happening, however terrible, which can come between us and the overwhelming love of Jesus for us.

It is a re-saying of something Paul mentioned yesterday that absolutely everything that we experience is imprinted with the loving hand of God. “Everything works together for those who love God.” And the reason is because our love of God has its source in the love of God for us, from which all love originates.

Certainly, there are times when it is difficult for us to see that. It must have been difficult for many of the martyrs of the early Church in the midst of their sufferings and yet it is now with praise and thanksgiving that we today celebrate their glorious memory.

If we can see the hand of God in what they did and were ready to suffer, it may help us to see his loving hand in our lives too.

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