Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Romans 12:1-2: Life as Sacrifice
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Sacrifice does not have a good name in today’s world. For our contemporaries, “to make a sacrifice” means basically not to do something one would like to do, or to do something one does not wish to do. And for those familiar with the history of religions, the term can calls to mind bloody victims offered to the gods. And here, the apostle urges the Christians of Rome to make a sacrifice out of their day-to-day life in the world (that is the meaning the word “body” has for him here). How can we understand such a proposal?

First of all, we should realize that this practice is not essentially negative. A sacrifice is an offering to God, in other words a gift or present. Exchanged between human beings, gifts bring into being or deepen a relationship. If I give someone an object important to me, that “costs” me something, then the bonds between us are created or reinforced. Presents can be given for different reasons—to ask for forgiveness after a break in a relationship, to cause the other person to take us more seriously or, most often, to give pleasure to the other and to show him or her that they matter to us.

In the ancient world, sacrifices sometimes had the role of awakening the interest of a faraway god or of placating a hostile deity. In Israel, however, that was not the case, because the God of the Bible was already motivated by a passionate love for his creation. In going to the Temple to make offerings to God, the faithful wanted above all to return to him, symbolically, a little of what he had given them by making them his own people (see Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 26:1-11). It was therefore primarily an act of gratefulness. Everything comes from God and everything must return to God, after having passed through the life of human beings.

In the case of Jesus, there is an important difference. The offering is not a material object, an animal or part of the harvest, but the whole of his existence. Jesus lived in the awareness that everything came to him from the one he called Abba, Father—“the Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands” (John 3:35)—and the meaning of his life consisted in striving to put into practice what God gave him to accomplish: “I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). In this way a perfect communion existed between the two.

The apostle Paul wants the Christians of Rome to enter this same relationship. He starts from “God’s mercy,” in other words the fact that, in Christ, God has given them everything, bringing them “out of the darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The experience of divine love leads to an inner renewal in them. They no longer follow the values of the surrounding society but instead are called to make their entire existence a song of praise to God by trying to do what God wants in all things. And what exactly does God want? Paul tells us: “All the commandments are summed up in these words: Love your neighbor as yourself.... Love is the total fulfillment of the Law” (Romans 13:9-10).

Paul calls this seeking to do God’s will a worship which is logikos, a Greek adjective hard to translate; the NIV above has “true and proper.” Often it is translated as “spiritual,” but that can make us think that it is only a matter of the inner life, whereas the mention of the “body” earlier shows us clearly that our whole being is involved. A worship which is logikos is one that is practiced by beings able to use their minds and to make decisions. As a result, it does not consist in material offerings but in an attitude of openness to God and in the ability to discern, in every situation, what can foster love. Making our lives a sacrifice in no way means refusing happiness or having a perverse desire to suffer, but giving thanks to God at all times by taking care of our fellow human beings, our sisters and brothers.

- Where and how have I experienced “God’s mercy” to me?

- What values, what habits of the surrounding society am I called to leave behind in order to do what God wants? Where can I find the strength and courage to do this?

- What helps me to discern concretely what love requires in a particular situation in my life?

Other bible meditations:

Last updated: 1 February 2023