Slavery is a difficult topic these days, as well it should be. Women and children are enslaved. Men, too, but one hears less of that.
Addicts know well the sense of enslavement to drink, drugs, sexual stimulation, food, and other pleasures. So perhaps a reading like this is more meaningful today in some quarters than it was a generation or two ago:
Brothers and sisters:
Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies
so that you obey their desires.
And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin
as weapons for wickedness,
but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life
and the parts of your bodies to God
as weapons for righteousness.
For sin is not to have any power over you,
since you are not under the law but under grace.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?
Of course not!
Do you not know that if you present yourselves
to someone as obedient slaves,
you are slaves of the one you obey,
either of sin, which leads to death,
or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin,
you have become obedient from the heart
to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted.
Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.
I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your nature.
For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity
and to lawlessness for lawlessness,
so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness.
But what profit did you get then
from the things of which you are now ashamed?
For the end of those things is death.
But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God,
the benefit that you have leads to sanctification,
and its end is eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A few Scriptural notes …
This passage is a natural follow-up to Romans 6:2-11, another Reconciliation reading, and also a selection for a funeral, plus used every year at the Easter Vigil.
We’ve already talked about righteousness in this series (here, Romans 3:22-26) and Paul refers to it again here. God is the ultimate in righteousness, but believers are urged to follow, to live out this quality.
Getting back to slavery, Paul presents his readers/listeners with two clear options. We can either be slaves to sin or slaves to God. We can either live in lawlessness or we can live in holiness. And ultimately, the final result will be either death or life. Does it remind you of this passage from the Torah? Certainly, Paul would have been aware of the connection.
This reading is quite long. Verses 15-23 are usually pieced out by Scripture scholars as an independent section. The daily Lectionary in the 29th Ordinary week, sees it differently (verses 12-18 on Wednesday; 19-23 on Thursday) –and you’ll experience this at daily Mass on 23-24 October this year.
It’s a long passage for individual reconciliation. Likely too long for a communal celebration as well. Too bad, because the central idea is rather clear. And for a penitent who might need a clear and direct message, this passage certainly strikes at the core of the matter.