The once fearful are now reconciled
Christ died for us with no guarantee that we would respond in faith
June 16, 2002, Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
This Sunday, Paul continues to reflect with the Church of Rome on the wonderful gifts that God has given them. All of this is based, of course, on the fact that God loves them. Christ chose to die for people that really were godless. Christ, Paul says, died "while we were still helpless" and did so because of his willingness to accept his fate. One could easily realize that someone would be willing to die for a good person, but to die for people that did not accept God seems beyond comprehension. So this proves that God's love is beyond what we could imagine and reaches out to us even though there was no guarantee that we would respond.
For Paul the death of Christ brought about a change in the relationship we might have with God. Paul tries to explain this telling us that we are now justified, that we will be saved, and that we can be reconciled to God. All these verbs in one way mean the same thing yet all are different. They all tell us that we can be one with God in that our relationship with God can now be one of intimacy.
This thought is the central theme of Paul's letter to the Romans, and bitter theological debates have been fought over it. Only recently, Catholics and Lutherans came to an agreement over the meaning of justification and how it changes us. So what Paul is teaching is a critical thought and was meant to get at the heart of the wonderful application of Christ's death to those who accept this in faith. Paul attributes this justification to Christ's death or as he says "by his blood." What happens is that those who were once enemies of God are now his friends. If once we were fearful of God's anger, now we have been reconciled.
The point, Paul is making, is that we have not done this but Christ has brought about this effect through his death. We could never accomplish this reconciliation but only God could for he can save a sinner from what is an ultimate peril. We face many perils in life but Paul is talking about the peril that leads to damnation. This is accomplished because God loves us and reaches out to us.
We all know what it means to be reconciled to someone. We probably have experienced this at different times when we become friends once more with someone who for a time had become estranged from us. We probably each made some step to bring the reconciliation about. But in this case we could do nothing on our own so God took the decisive step. Since we were sinners it took the act of Christ to express God's love by dying for us and giving us the grace that actually changes us. We are now filled with the very life of Christ, joined to him in both death and resurrection.
Paul certainly would agree with the words of our first reading from the Book of Exodus. It talks about God's actions in saving Israel. It reminds us that God sought an intimacy with Israel for God says, "I brought you here to myself." God calls Israel his special possession. If those were acts of God's love than Christ's giving of his very life expresses love even more.
We can rejoice in that love and express our feelings in the refrain of our responsorial psalm, "We are his people, the sheep of his flock." The process of justification, salvation and reconciliation go on in our own lives today as we experience the effects of God's love.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)