There’s a curious patch in this selection, that line about dying for a good person. I wonder if Saint Paul is speaking about an ancient understanding of placing oneself in the service of a king or noble and dying for that person. It’s something less prevalent in our culture, as an individual in the modern West might see herself or himself as sacrificing to protect the innocent (such as in the military or civil service) or for the sake of the team (such as in the culture of sport).
At any rate, Christ died for us. Maybe we can relate a bit more to that in our less selfish moments. Any human culture will likely have difficulty overriding the self-preservation instinct for a cause that doesn’t seem quite clear.
So we acclaim that Christ sacrificed for us. What has that to do with reconciliation?
Brothers and sisters:
Christ, while we were still helpless,
yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then, since we are now justified by his Blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath.
Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
how much more, once reconciled,
will we be saved by his life.
Not only that,
but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Jesus died for us when we were at our worst. Across the board. A cruel and vicious empire ruled the Mediterranean world. Religious authorities knowingly turned over a just man for execution. One disciple sold out the Master. Another denied him three times and ran away.
What does this passage mean? No matter how deep any of us has sunk, the Lord reaches out his hand to lift us up. Is that a cause for rejoicing? Saint Paul suggests at the end of this passage it is cause for boasting. Boasting not of ourselves, but of God.
Salvation is a fact of the universe. This reading should dispel as much as anything the notion that we are unredeemed, or unable to be saved. Christ’s sacrifice came when all human forces were literally his enemies.
And he reconciled us anyway.