Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — July 9, 2023

Looking at Romans 7:15-25, Tara W. Bulger reflects on God’s grace and the spiritual practice of self-examination.

Romans 7:15-25
Year A

In 12-step groups, it is common practice to take a daily inventory. Where did I lose my temper today? Who do I have a resentment against and why? This process allows you to make amends when needed and reminds you of what you may need to work on.

Similarly, the Ignatian Examen prayer encourages one to ask, “In my thoughts and actions today, when was I drawing closer to God and when was a stepping further away?” It allows you to look closely at your life to evaluate how you act and where God may be moving. It offers us a chance to see goodness and our sin.

Today’s passage reminds me of this type of self-evaluation. Paul writes: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (v. 15), and I know what he is talking about. Despite knowing what is correct, we don’t always do it.

When a conciliatory word is called for, I have offered a harsh rebuke instead. When care and concern are needed, I have acted with blind indifference. When the faithful repose is clear, I have chosen the easy way instead. Sin is pervasive, and it seems to have the upper hand. Oh, wretched people that we are, who will save us? Because I surely cannot save myself.

Paul wants his readers to know that the law is insufficient for our salvation. Who can follow the law completely? None of us. But more than that, he believes the law contributed to sin in the world, however unintentionally. God gave the law to bring life to the people, but we’ve weaponized it and used it to build up our own pride and power. Moreover, we heard what we weren’t supposed to do, and it made us want to do it even more. What are we to do, Paul wonders, when what was meant for good is being warped by human sin?

The good news, for Paul and us, is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Christ offers us grace and forgiveness. Out of gratitude for that gift, we can look boldly and honestly at the sin of our daily lives. None of us will be struck perfect, but we will be given the grace for another day when we can grow into who God has called us to be.

When I was in college, I saw a counselor for some issues I was having with a roommate. I knew I was part of the problem — I was messy and procrastinated everything and just couldn’t seem to get it together. I told the counselor that I seemed to be making the same mistakes repeatedly even though I knew better. And this lovely counselor told me that was how life worked.

Over the years, I’ve learned that we make mistakes. We make them time and again, but with God’s help, we slowly improve. This was not good news for me! I wanted the magic solution that would help me be better all at once. Instead, I was given hope that even in my imperfection, there was something that God could work with.

This passage from Romans tells us the truth about who we are. The good news of Jesus Christ tells us that even in our sinfulness, there is something in us that God can work with. May we open our eyes a bit more to the sin that envelops us. And may we pray to God for the grace to change and grow into the person God has created us to be.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Review your actions of the day so far. Did your thoughts and actions point toward God?
  2. In what ways have you missed the mark and sinned?
  3. Do you see patterns of repeated sin in your life? Offer them to God in prayer.

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