5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things
to all, to save at least some. I Cor. 9:16
What is the true value of one human person? We can easily discover what the value of most material things is, but how do we come to understand the true or objective value of a creature like man , who is both matter and spirit, a union of a body and spiritual soul? When it comes to the value of purely material things, it is the negotiation between seller and buyer that basically determines the value. Whether it’s the value of a house, or a car, or a lamp or most any other material thing, there is some kind of market value or price that tells us what it’s worth. An artist sets his value for the work of art, but the collector has a role in the final determination of the value. But there really is no “market value” when it comes to persons, if they are free creatures, so how do we learn their value?
The true value of every single human person can only be found in one place, in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, the direct Creator of every human soul and the Redeemer of every single human person. The Bible says we have been purchased at a great price, the price of Jesus’ blood, and that deed established the value that God places on every human person, since Christ died for all. Moreover, Christ “purchased” us not like a slave master purchases his slaves, for his own ownership and benefit, but He “purchased” us precisely to rescue us from slavery, from the greatest slave owner of all, the devil, precisely to restore our human dignity by restoring our true freedom. In truth we were all enslaved and “possessed” by the Devil, not by any right he had to own us, , but simply because we were all slaves of our own sins.
It is precisely because man is more than his body that slavery is evil and that the value of every person is incomparable to any material thing. The true value of each and every soul is completely beyond human determination, beyond any value system proper to this world, and only God can determine the measure of our worth. Revelation teaches us how greatly the creator of this universe valued each and every soul he created and each human person that resulted from that act of creation. He created each of us in his very image and likeness according to Genesis, and that is the first measure of our true value.
He confirmed this measure of our worth, and made it more visibly manifest, by the act of our redemption, for he was determined to pay the ultimate price to redeem each and every human person without exception at the “price” of his own human life, a life infinitely valuable because it was/is the human life of the Lord who created the world and all of us, the life of the Only-Begotten Son who became flesh “for us men and for our salvation.” Thus, by his self-sacrifice, Christ Our Lord not only purchased our freedom from sin and the Devil, but He did it in such a way as to give an unmistakable witness and manifestation of our true value in the eyes of God. He restored our dignity and our objective value, our true sense of worth by manifesting his love for us in such a dramatic way. He laid down his life to save ours, to raise us to a higher life, to free us so we could be persons in full sense and to restore our understanding of the value that God places on each of us.
So the true measure of each of us, of our person, is God’s creative and redemptive love, that love which has been poured out in the Incarnate Son who gave his life, as St. Paul says, for me: “ I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20). This personal appropriation of redemption, “for me,” is very important to understand. Certainly, Christ died for all, to redeem all, but He did so not simply for us as a collectivity, but for each one of us, so we can truly say, “to redeem my soul, to set me free, to make me God’s Child in Him,” and so on. This personal orientation of the redemption is beautifully confirmed in the Christian tradition that has always professed that if only one soul, one person, were in need of redemption, He would have paid the same price as he paid for all, His life, a life that is indivisible and of infinite value to the Father precisely because of who Jesus is, his Only-Beloved Son.
This truth about the objective, God-determined value of every single human person is what motivated St. Paul and the other Apostles to spend their lives preaching the Gospel of redemption: he says, “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible … to save at least some.” So valuable is a single human person, that Paul will spend his very life, in imitation of Jesus, if even to save but one single soul. He hopes to same many, but that is going to be determined by God’s grace interacting with man’s true human freedom. Paul’s task is simply to bring the Gospel of Hope to men so that they may have an opening to that saving interaction with God.
Likewise, the value of every single person’s spiritual destiny explains why Jesus does not allow the crowds to turn his mission into that of simply a miracle worker or an earthly ruler. His purpose has to do with the salvation of souls which begins with the preaching of the Gospel: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1:38) Jesus has come to redeem the whole person, but he does so first by raising dead souls to life, by healing wounded souls, by renewing the whole person from the inside out. That process begins by his preaching and is made possible by his death and resurrection. Healing man’s body is certainly a great mercy, but it does not ultimately matter without the healing of man’s soul. The spiritual soul has a value that cannot be measured in any way; the body is of great value itself, but is of transcendent value only when united with and informed by a truly free soul that is enlivened by God’s life.
We can learn two great truths about ourselves and for our lives from all this. First, we can learn that the spiritual order of things is always of a higher and more transcendent value than the material order of things. The material order is good and will survive forever, but only due to the spiritual order. We have to put first things first in our freedom, and that means caring for the needs of the soul first without neglecting the needs of the body.
And, secondly, we can and must learn the value that God has placed on each one of us by his creative and redeeming activity, creating and redeeming our souls, and ultimately our bodies as well, for we will not be simply resurrected souls in His final Kingdom, but resurrected persons. Thus, if we learn to value ourselves as God does, and by God’s measuring stick, how much and why he values us – we are his images and can be his children for eternity, surely we will never come to doubt our true personal worth, due to suffering and misfortunes which are part of this world. And thus we will never decide to live as if we were only material creatures with no destiny beyond this world. By God’s Grace, we will struggle to always live what we truly are: God’s children, purchased at such a great price.