Tuesday of Week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 12:5-16

As Paul comes to the end of his Letter (we will finish reading it this week), in his usual way he has some advice of a practical nature for the Christian community in Rome. This does not mean that he has not said anything about Christian living up to this point, but he now goes into detail to show that Jesus Christ is to be Lord in every area of our life.  These chapters are not a postscript to the great theological discussions we have seen so far.  What he has said about God and our relationship to him in Jesus Christ must also flow out into the way we behave and relate to each other.   True faith cannot stand by itself.  It must find expression in the way we act:

…the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
(Gal 5:6)

This means submitting ourselves totally to Jesus Christ and his Way.

Paul begins with a critical statement on which all that follows depends: 

So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

It is not just that each one of us through baptism is united with Christ, but that because of the presence of Christ in each one of us, we are essentially united to each other in one family.  In his First Letter to the Corinthians Paul speaks of this at length.  Speaking to the Christians he says plainly:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor 12:27)

This is the basis for all that follows.  We can only love and serve Christ in loving and serving each other.  Christians are not isolated individuals.  The community forms an interlocking and interdependent relationship in which each member offers their particular gift or charism in the service of the whole community.

Although we are united together as brothers and sisters in one family, there are important differences between each person.  Unity implies diversity.  Each one has been endowed with a distinct gift or ‘charism’ by which one serves the community in a unique way. These gifts are to be openly acknowledged and used for the good of the community and for individuals in it.

Paul then mentions some of these gifts:

  • Prophecy: This is one of the most highly rated gifts; it is the gift by which a person communicates special messages from God to the community; such people are often gifted with a deep insight into the needs of the community, the direction in which it should be going.  They may give words of encouragement or of warning.  We should, however, be aware that in other parts of the New Testament there are warnings about false prophets.
  • Service/Ministry: This is in the sense that one is called to give a special service to the needs of others.  Some of these ministries are more formal than others and may be recognised by a laying of hands on the person chosen for a particular ministry.  But everyone in the community is called on for service, which is really love in action.
  • Teacher: Some have the task of forming the community in their understanding of the Christian message.  They are distinct from the prophet.
  • Exhortation: There are those who have a special gift for inspiring the members in living their Christian life to the full.  Their counterparts today would be outstanding preachers or writers.  But it can include all forms of encouragement in living the Christian life to the full.
  • Alms-giving: In Paul’s time, many of the Christians were poor and not in a position to give alms.  And in every community there would be the sick, the poor, the elderly, orphans and widows.  But there would be some who had a surplus they could share, and this they should do with generosity.  Paul regularly urged richer communities to share what they had with poorer communities.
  • Authority: The leaders of the community, like the elders, should use the authority entrusted to them with care, with justice and, above all, to empower and enrich the community.  It should never be used for the implementation of their own personal agenda or to exercise a sense of control over others.  In the spirit of the Gospel, the one in authority is a servant, seeking the well being of those to whom he is responsible.
  • Works of mercy: These were something all could do, but perhaps some were temperamentally more suited to this work.  Paul says it should be done with cheerfulness.  There is nothing less desirable than those who offer help grudgingly and out of a sense of ‘duty’.  As Paul wrote:

    God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)

    Paul then goes on to some more general advice on the kind of attitudes that individuals should have in their mutual relationships.  He mentions things like:

  • Sincerity: Always meaning what we say and saying what we mean.
  • Avoiding what is clearly evil.
  • Loving one another with real affection, like brothers and sisters.  We can ‘love’ in a very functional way as we respond to other’s needs.  Paul is asking for a warmer relationship:

    …love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

    What he urges is real love and not just ‘charity’.

  • Anticipating each other in showing respect and not always waiting for people to be respectful to us first, or withholding respect if we don’t get any.
  • In serving the Lord, working not half-heartedly, but conscientiously and eagerly.
  • Be joyful in hope, persevere in time of trial, and keep praying regularly. One prays not only in hard times but keeps in union with God at all times.
  • Look to the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ (the ‘saints’), and be generous in offering them the hospitality of our homes.
  • Living in a society where Christians were suspected, hated and attacked, he urges them to “bless” their persecutors and not to curse them.  This is advice that Jesus himself had given.  To pay back one’s persecutors in kind is to bring oneself down to their level.  Blessing and praying for them is not only not impossible; it is the only way to bring about change – in them and us.

  • Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  Elsewhere Paul, speaking of himself will say that he is all things to all people.  He adapts himself to their needs, which is not at all the same as doing just what they want.
  • Finally, he urges each person to “live in harmony with one another”. Not in the sense of being blind to each one’s virtues and defects but, as God himself does, to reach out impartially to all with the same measure of love and concern, to be free of bias and prejudice and to act with real justice.

    Reflecting on this passage, we can each ask ourselves what particular gifts has God given to me with which to serve both our Church community and the wider community?  How often do I actually think about this?

    It is something which, to some extent, we have lost in many of our parishes.  So often in our Mass assemblies – which often is the only time we get together – we come as private families or as individuals with little concern or interest for those around us.  “I go to the 11 o’clock Mass because the time is convenient and I like the choir.”  By being “at” Mass I have fulfilled my “weekly duty”.  Is that what the Eucharist is about?  Where is that interlocking and interdependent community that Paul speaks about here?

    The second part of the reading concerns more each individual and we could usefully make an examination of conscience on the headings that Paul lists and evaluate how well we are doing. Although they concern each individual, they are all linked to our relations with others.

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