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 soul, of 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 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?
One sentence from Gaudium et Spes 35 gives us a starting point in determining the value of the human person; “Man’s worth is greater because of what he is than because of what he has.” This measure provides two principles in this evaluation. First, man cannot be properly valued in the context of material goods; then human person t6ranscends the material order of his being. Secondly, the human person must ultimately be valued for what he or she is, that is, in the context of his creation and his redemption by God. Thus, the true value of every single human person can ultimately be determined in only one place, in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, the direct Creator of every human soul and the sole Redeemer of every single human person.
The Bible reveals that every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God and that we have all been purchased at a great price, the price of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Thos two facts confirm the value that God places on every human person, since Christ created every person’s immortal soul and 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 in order to rescue us from our own self-induced slavery, and he rescued us 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 Adam’s sin and 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 the God who created us and redeemed us can determine the true measure of our worth. Revelation teaches us how greatly the Creator of this universe valued each and every soul he created, 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 thus that is the first true measure of our intrinsic value.
Moreover, God confirmed this measure of our worth, and made it more visibly manifest, by the very 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 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 as determined by 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 personally, 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 a 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, that is, 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 the soul of a single human person, that Paul will spend his very life, in imitation of Jesus, if even to save but one person. He hopes to same many, but that is going to be determined by God’s grace interacting with each man’s personal 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 change his mission into that of simply a miracle worker or an earthly ruler. His mission 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 of all 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 complete 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 purely material way. Likewise, the body is of great value in 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 from all this two great truths about ourselves and others and learn a great lesson for our daily lives. First, we must learn that the spiritual order of things is always of a higher, more transcendent value than the material order of things. The material order is itself good and will survive forever, but only due to and ordered 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 and our neighbors as God does, by using God’s measuring system, which reveals how much and why God values us precisely because we are created as His images and can be His children for eternity, surely we will never come to doubt our own or anyone else’s true personal worth.
Then, unlike Job who seems tempted to despair because of his great suffering and misfortunes, which are part of life this world, we will cling to life and to God’s valuation of our persons. And thus we will never decide to live as if we were without any value or as if we are only material creatures with no destiny beyond this world. By God’s Grace, we will struggle to always live and rejoice in what we truly are: God’s true, adopted children and His beloved purchased at such a great price.