Sub-Dean Manoj Mathew Zacharia answers questions of a theological or spiritual nature submitted from readers. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration for an answer in a future issue.
In Romans 12:9-21, Paul tells us how to live with such directives as let love be genuine; love one another; rejoice in hope; extend hospitality; bless those who persecute you; do not repay evil for evil; live peaceably with all and more. In what ways would you see these directives being used for spiritual growth? –Janet Fedders
Thank you for this question! The admonitions that St. Paul offers are in line with the core of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. However, in order for me to answer your question at a more substantive level, let me shed some light on the context that Paul is writing to.
The Epistle to the Romans is one of Paul’s most theologically substantial works. It is written in the context of Paul’s desire to evangelize in Spain while he was in Corinth in Greece. The Epistle centers on Paul’s intention to spend time in Rome. He offers authentic teaching on salvation in Christ, the nature of Jesus, as well as the new life made manifest in Christ. Chapters 12-16 specifically focus on the ethical impact of our new life in Christ.
Chapter 12 focuses on transformation. This transformation is directly connected with offering ourselves as holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). A direct result of such a transformation is a differentiation between lives offered to God and lives offered to the lords of the world. The practical consequence of transformation is mentioned in the synopsis you have provided in the text of your question.
Now to answer your question, the first element of spiritual growth is recognition. We are called to recognize our identity as made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus Christ, referred to in 1 Corinthians as the “last Adam,” also known as the “Second Adam,” is the prototype or our model in this recognition. The incarnation symbolizes the full realization of being made in the likeness of God through Jesus the Christ.
In recognizing that our lives are centered on God, we are invited to discipleship. One aspect of discipleship is following the concrete disciplines of Jesus. These disciplines are centered in a relationship with God through prayer, meditation, and constant reflection.
It is when we mindfully engage in reflection that we can assess how consonant our life is with the values of Christ. When we are convicted of falling short of these values, it is incumbent upon us to reconcile with God and neighbor through the Sacramental Rite of Reconciliation. Penance enables us to verbalize our repentance through the confession of sins, thereby empowering us to live into the assurance of pardon and grace.
The assurance of pardon and grace leads to transformation. Transformation is ultimately centered on living into the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God.
I deeply appreciate your question. The church has no theology of for-profit mass incarceration, per se. However, within the teachings of Jesus and Christian discipleship, we find the call for both truth telling and holy listening. And thanks to works such as The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, people such as author Michelle Alexander are helping us to see that “our prison system (has become) a unique form of social control, much like slavery and Jim Crow, the systems it replaced.”
The cathedral will present, as a partner site, the 2016 Trinity Institute on January 21-23, 2016. One of the sessions will be on what the ethical response to mass incarceration needs to be. The topic of the broader Trinity Institute is “Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice.” I invite you and all our readers to attend as together we speak, listen, and learn about mass incarceration, and other matters of justice, as it is currently practiced in this country, as well as the ways we need to change.
Manoj Mathew Zacharia