In chapter 14 of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle is addressing a particular situation in this community. Verses 1-6 argue for the community to be tolerant. This is followed by some more specific advice, with verse 10ab excised to give the whole text a rather general cast:
No one lives for oneself,
and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;
for it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
every knee shall bend before me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So then each of us shall give an accounting of ourselves to God.
The section in color is thought to be a possible ancient hymn fragment or a credal statement: three couplets with something of a poetic sense. Whether original to Saint Paul or not isn’t relevant. The apostle uses it as a springboard to remind his hearers that all believers are accountable to God. For those latched on to the idea of quoting ancient Christian hymns, this section has a sort of symmetry, if you will. The quotation marks outline a poetic prophecy to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:23. In Paul’s day, just as subjects of an emperor bent knee and acknowledged authority, so too Christians do likewise before the judgment seat of God.
When might this passage be selected? Where authority is valued–by either the deceased or community of mourners, perhaps. To underscore the centrality of God and of Jesus the Son in the funeral liturgy. I suppose if the first reading were more suggestive of the qualities of the deceased, this Scripture would tend to give more of a balance before heading into the Gospel.
It’s a passage that might comfort some–those who in their lives rely on God and acknowledge divine authority in their lives. But it’s a message of which we never hear too much.