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A Scripture Reflection for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by John R. Barker, OFM | July 2, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2017: 2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a; Ps 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19; Rom 6:3-4, 8-11; Mt 10:37-42

This week's reading from the Letter to the Romans, when we consider if from the perspective of its larger context, presents those of us who are baptized with a strong challenge. We have died along with Christ, Paul says. Yet we can often act as if we had not died at all. The paradoxical result is that, by refusing to accept our death, we prevent ourselves from living for God. Or, to draw on Jesus' words in the Gospel, we don't allow ourselves to lose our lives, and so we have yet to find them.
The death Paul is talking about is death to sin. For Paul, baptism means that in Christ we have "died to sin," which means that sin, like death, has no real power over us any more because Christ has freed us from it. As long as sin had power over us, we were at least theoretically compelled in some way to "serve" sin by, well, sinning. But in Christ we no longer are under the power of sin, we no longer have to serve sin. Instead, we serve God. This is truly good news, because while sin rewards labor with death, God gives us eternal life in Christ (Rom 6:23).
Great stuff, as far as it goes. The problem, though, is that we often forget that we are not servants of sin, and so we keep on sinning. It's as if we had been delivered from Egypt and now sat in the Promised Land making bricks for Pharaoh. That of course would be insane, since we are no longer required to make bricks for Pharaoh. In the same way, it is actually a form of delusion when we give our lives over to sin as if we were still in bondage to it. This is Paul's point: sin doesn't own us or control us, so we should stop acting as if it did. We serve God now, not Pharaoh, so we can and should stop making bricks.
Now of course Paul knows it's not as easy as that. A little later on, he speaks for all of us when he says that "I do not do the good that I want, but I do the evil I do not want" (7:19). Paul knows that once we are baptized we do not suddenly become sinless. He knows it's a struggle and that we have to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). What he wants us to truly understand is that being in Christ means we can no longer simply give ourselves up to sin, as if we served it rather than Christ. We have to stop thinking and acting as if we were still in Egypt, looking to Pharaoh for orders. We who live for God in Christ Jesus should be taking direction from no one but God. This is why if we love anything more than Christ, we are not worthy of him. Hard words to hear, but there they are. And this truly is a form of death; it is a sacrifice to give up sin because sin is usually easy, pleasurable, or exciting. It is often easier in the short term to serve Pharaoh than to serve God. Even the children of Israel resisted their own deliverance: "Far better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Exod 14:12).
I once had a priest tell me, as I confessed yet again a besetting sin I had been struggling with for years, that perhaps my problem was that I thought this sin had a more powerful grip on me that it actually did. If I stopped treating it as if it were more formidable than maybe it was, things might improve, with God's grace. To use Paul's phrase, I needed to consider myself dead to this sin. And he was right. Once I stopped thinking as if I still worked for Pharaoh, I was (eventually) able to stop making those bricks. Paul this week asks each of us to stop and consider where we might be still thinking of ourselves as alive rather than dead to sin. Where have we decided that we are not going to worry about certain things, that they aren't really that big a deal, just human foibles - nothing to get too worked up about? Where do we rationalize, temporize, excuse, indulge our acts of selfishness, lost opportunities to be charitable, or evil thoughts? And he invites us to remember that Christ has in fact conquered sin for us; we are not beholden to it or required to serve it. We are already in the Promised Land. We can stop making bricks.

The above image is used with permission from Bible History Online.

Author information John R. Barker, OFM

Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies
M.Div./M.A., Catholic Theological Union; Ph.D., Boston College

Br. John R. Barker, OFM, is a Franciscan friar with the Province of Saint John the Baptist (Cincinnati). He is Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at CTU. His main areas of research relate to the formation and function of biblical texts, particularly the prophetic literature. This includes such approaches as rhetorical criticism, the history of the interpretation and reception of biblical texts, and the Bible in the Church and culture.

Br. John has presented on a variety of biblical topics at parishes throughout the US and contributes regularly to Weekday Homily Helps. His publications include “Haggai,” The Bible Today 53.6 (2015): 343–48; “The Garden as a Place of Beginnings,” The Bible Today 53.3 (2015): 137–42; “The Book of Haggai and the Rebuilding of the Temple in the Early Persian Period,” New Theology Review 26.2 (2014). He is currently revising for publication his dissertation, “Disputed Temple: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Haggai,” and preparing the article on Zechariah for the revision of the New Jerome Bible Commentary. He is a member of the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).

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