On Breaking Chains and Becoming a Slave

by on October 21, 2015

At Mass in this 29th week of Ordinary Time, the Church has been reading through St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Gospel of Luke.

The readings for Wednesday in the 29th week (Oct 21) come from Romans 6, Psalm 124, and Luke 12. Take a look at some of these excerpts:
Romans 6:18 – “Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.”
Psalm 124:8 – “Our help is the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
Luke 12:39-48: In this passage, the Lord continues to stress the importance of his disciples remaining vigilant, since they do not know the hour or the day when the Master will return.

Jesus is right (duh): we have no idea when the Master will return but an interesting thing to consider is that we also don’t have any idea how he’ll come. But the fact of the matter is that he will, indeed, come and, surely, he does already come to us…maybe not in an “apocalyptic” way, but in a quiet way he already comes to us and lives within us. So how can we be prepared? What does it look like to be vigilant?

Paul suggests a pretty good way of remaining vigilant in his Letter to the Romans: “Freed from sin…become slaves of righteousness.” Before the Lord came to us the first time by taking on our flesh at the Incarnation, we were slaves of sin. But now, by virtue of the redeeming work of Christ on the Cross, we have become “children of the light and of the day.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) Now we are no longer enslaved to sin but are indeed free from sin and are slaves of righteousness. The Master of the righteous, who is righteousness itself, is our master, also. He’s taught us the way we must follow through his apostles and his Church, through scripture and sacrament, word and deed, service and prayer. As the classic antiphon in the Liturgy of the Hours reminds us, “Do the things you have learned and you will be blessed.”

The teaching of the Church is clear and often challenging, but it does not challenge us in order to oppress us. Rather, we are the subjects of a mercy that challenges us so that we can be the unbound recipients of the Love that frees us. St. Paul encourages us to be “slaves” of righteousness, not in the sense of being shackled, bound, and forced to do “righteous” acts, but in the sense that like the slaves in biblical times we might be totally dedicated to our Master, to his vineyard, to his harvest, and to his work in the world.

Obviously this is easier said than done. The psalmist knows well the feeling of hardship and pain, of carrying what I think can be appropriately called the burden of righteousness. But when we remember the words of Psalm 124, “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” righteousness doesn’t seem so much of a burden. When we are tired, weary, and tempted to escape this life of grace that has been won for us, we can, in fact we must, call on the name of the Lord who is our salvation. The Lord made heaven and earth and all they contain…I think he can manage to help us, too.

So it doesn’t really make a difference when or why or where or how the Master will come. The point is that he will come. He has already come, to the world and to our hearts, and he’s coming again. So let’s live as “slaves of righteousness,” doing the things we’ve learned, and we will be blessed.