June 2019 Lectio Divina: (Romans 12:1-2) A Life Worthy of Christians

Lectio: What the Word says in itself
These two verses mark an important transition in Paul’s Letter to Christians in Rome. The first eleven chapters of the letter are devoted to announcing and explaining ‘the good news of God’ (1:1), what God has done for humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The final verses of Chapter 11 rise to a crescendo in praise of ‘the mercies of God’ (11:33-36). Chapter 12 begins (in the original Greek) with a conjunction, ‘Therefore’, which is lost in some English translations. The conjunction is important in the context of the letter because it links Paul’s appeal with ‘the mercies of God’. To live morally is a response to God’s unfathomable mercies.

The liturgical language used here by Paul may strike the reader as unusual. He speaks of everyday Christian living in terms of ‘worship’, ‘sacrifice’, and ‘an offering pleasing to God.’ For Paul’s Roman audience, connections with former Temple sacrifices would be obvious. The slaughtering of animals for sacrifice was commonplace in Jewish worship (Lev 17:11). In an oral culture, where memory was acute, the listeners to Rom 12:1-2 would make mental associations with an earlier part of the letter (3:1-25) where Paul talks about the sacrifice of Calvary replacing Old Testament sacrifice, and Jesus as the new Mercy Seat, the place of meeting between God’s Mercy and sinful humanity. Paul’s message involves a reinterpretation of sacrifice and worship in terms of the New Covenant.

Within this theological frame, richly laced with reference to Old Testament ritual and sacrifice, Paul makes an appeal for a new way of living that is worthy of Christians. It is to be informed by the ‘new mind’, notably different from that of ‘the world’; it is to be sacrificial in character, and an act of worship. Christians are to offer their ‘living bodies’ (see 6:12-14) as a sacrifice pleasing to God (in contrast with former sacrifices involving dead animals). By following this sacrificial path, Christians will grow in the knowledge of God.

Meditatio: What the Word says to me/us
One way of allowing the Word to speak to us personally is to stay with some keywords or phrases that resonate with us. For example, I may feel challenged by the word ‘sacrifice.’ There is always a cost involved in sacrifice. I think of the ways in which daily living of the Christian life in today’s world may be costly. Paul invites us to offer our ‘living bodies’ to God as an act of worship. The human body is precious. It is a new kind of temple – home for the Holy Spirit. What we do with our bodies, how we treat our bodies, how we worship with our bodies – these are important questions. ‘Let your behaviour change’ implies an ongoing process of transformation. How do I know that this is happening in my case? What has my lifestyle got to do with discerning the will of God?

Oratio: What the Word leads me/us to say
I pray that I may be open and ready to respond to God’s invitation. ‘God’s Word never leads us where God’s grace will not sustain us’! I may pray for light to see where God is leading me now. I may pray for the courage I need today, or the wisdom to discern the next step. I may choose to dwell on the words or images that ‘spoke’ to me earlier, and I converse with God…

Contemplatio: Being transformed by the Word
Ours is a busy, noisy world. It is not always easy to find the stillness which will allow the Word (Rom 12:1-2) to enter the crevices of our lives and transform us. We seek out a way of being still. After demanding work or activity, it may be necessary to engage in some breathing or ‘slow-down’ exercises to bring us to stillness. Routes to stillness are as varied as one can imagine. I must search and find that route, if I am to ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord’ (Ps 34:8).

Actio: putting the Word into practice
My response will include action. I must do what the Word directs. Rom 12:1-2 may provoke a review of my daily living. It may guide me towards some practical steps to be taken – my personal response to ‘the mercies of God.’

Sr Mary T. O’Brien PBVM

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