Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

Sept. 3: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

What is the Christian life?

Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

In preparing the readings for this Sunday, the editors of the lectionary made an unfortunate decision. They chose to omit the word “therefore” from the opening line of the second reading.

That line should read, “I urge you therefore, brothers (and sisters), by the mercies of God.” “Therefore” does appear in the New American Bible Revised Edition translation of Romans, but the editors of the lectionary omit it probably on stylistic grounds. There is, however, an important theological reason for its inclusion.

Chapter 12 begins an important shift of emphasis in the Letter to the Romans. Paul offers his readers advice on what they must do to live authentic Christian lives. He does so, however, only after devoting the bulk of the letter to describing what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. For Paul, the Christian life is a response to what God’s mercy and love manifested in Jesus’ passion and death.

The Christian life is not a matter of adherence to a moral code. It is not obedience to a set of obligations imposed upon us. The Christian life is a response to our experience of God’s forgiveness and love. The pattern of the Christian life is not circumscribed by laws and obligations; rather, it is shaped by our generosity in responding to God’s love, by our creativity in finding new ways to express our thanks to God, by the depth of our commitment to the ideals of the Gospel.

In making life choices, we Christians are not to ask, “What are my obligations?” or “What am I required to do?” Fulfilling our obligations is not what the Christian life is about.

The question we are to ask ourselves is, “What return can I make to the Lord for all that the Lord has done for me?” There will never come a time when we can say: “I’ve done enough. I’ve done all that God can expect me to do. I have fulfilled all my obligations as if our relationship with God is a byproduct of our activity.” Our relationship with God is a gift that we can only receive with gratitude and humility.

That an authentic Christian life is a response to the revelation of God’s love follows a pattern discernable in the Hebrew Scriptures. Ancient Israel’s moral and cultic codes found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers are preceded by the story of the liberation from slavery in Egypt and the deliverance at the sea. Deuteronomy’s recapitulation of ancient Isael’s codes of conduct is preceded by an admonition: “take care that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Dt 6:12). The Bible recognizes the priority of God’s gracious actions in eliciting from us a response that expresses our love and gratitude.

Today’s Gospel points to the cross as providing us with the way to pattern our gratitude to God. The cross embodies the paradox of the Christian life: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). We find our truest self and our truest happiness by seeking the happiness of others.

The pattern of the Christian life is not set by any list of obligations but by the cross. We do not ask about our obligations, but the question we ask is, “How can I be a blessing to others?” Our response is shaped not by laws or obligations but our readiness to take up the cross and by denying ourselves for the sake of others.

The cross testifies to the level of Jesus’ generosity. Today, the spirit of Jesus that is within us calls us to that same level of generosity and commitment: “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and begin to follow in my footsteps.” 

Paul recognized that we do not save ourselves. Jesus Christ has saved us. What remains for us is to respond to Christ’s self-giving. Our response to God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ embraces “what is good and pleasing and perfect.” That response expresses our love for Christ who first loved us and gave his life as a ransom for us.


  • scripture