Even though it is not explicitly mentioned, I see both of our readings for today looking at the implications of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In our reading from Romans, St. Paul speaks to his brother and sister Christians about how, in Christ, they are “not under the law but under grace.” And then he speaks to a very human response to this: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Of course not!”
I think we would be tempted to “sin because we are not under the law but under grace” if our relationship to Jesus was merely a legalistic one, and we were only trying to push the “legal” boundaries of what we could or could not do. But if we were in a personal relationship with Jesus, and we truly grew to love Him, why would we consider abusing the relationship in that way? To me, thinking in that way is an abuse of a loving relationship, just as it would be between two human beings. We don’t take our loved ones for granted in that way, do we?
I think Jesus says something similar to His disciples when He uses an image of a master of a house and a thief coming to break in to talk about being prepared for when the “Son of Man will come.” When Peter asks if this is meant for them (the apostles) or for everyone, Jesus uses another image: that of a “faithful and prudent steward” who is found doing his duty when the master arrives. He also says: “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the manservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely…” Again, if that unfaithful servant had a loving relationship with his master, he would not have been unfaithful.
If we get away from a legalistic or transactional kind of relationship and instead accept God’s love and seek to love God in return, we will be willing to be faithful servants. And when we do turn away from God, it will not take much for us to turn back. May we be willing to enter into that kind of relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.