Rev. Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J.
Reading St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans - IV
4th Part: The Terms of the Covenant: Life, Morality, and Spirituality
Just as the Mosaic covenant includes a set of stipulations, so too the final chapters of the letter to the Romans (chapters 12:1–15:13) before attending to such epistolary matters as travel plans (15:22-33), personal greetings and instructions for the community (16:1-24), and a special blessing (16:25-27).
The content of the normative part of this letter is what we would expect from knowing the teachings of Christ recorded in the Gospels. Like the first tablet of the Old Law and the first commandment of the New, the doctrine here begins with an instruction on true worship. Saint Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, along with minds that resist conformity to this world and that are trained instead on doing the will of God (12:1-2). To accomplish this he urges the cultivation of a profound humility and a readiness to use the particular gifts that each of us have received for service in the one body of Christ that is the Church (12:3-8).
»For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.«
Like the second tablet of the Old Law and the second commandment of the New, what follows spells out the injunction of Christ not only by quoting a number of the commandments (13:9-10) but also by providing number examples of how we are to love our neighbors as ourselves: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (12:9-10). The list that follows is lengthy but practical: bless those who persecute you, repay no one evil for evil, live peaceably with everyone so far as it is possible, and leave vengeance to God.
Presumably relying on the directives of Jesus about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, St. Paul includes a section on the respect and obedience that Christians are to render to worldly authorities (13:1-7). Toward the end of the section there is a brief treatment about such disciplinary and ascetical matters as eating and fasting, couched within a directive not to pass judgment on one another in such questions (14:1-12) and a correlative directive to err on the side of charity by self-denial rather than ever to place an obstacle or stumbling-block in another’s way (14:13-23).