Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The Letter to the Romans features much of St. Paul's thinking regarding sin. Often these arguments feature the words "flesh," "body," and "spirit." It is good to remember that we are reading these words "in translation." In English, the word "flesh" connotes something entirely different than it means in Greek. This is especially true in a verse from today's passage: For if you live according to the flesh, you will die. . . (Romans 8:13a).
Perhaps it is our Puritanical background, but whenever we hear the word "flesh," most of us immediately think that Paul is speaking of sexual matters. The "sins of the flesh" connotes fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and other behaviors that abuse the sexual power with which we have been endowed. However, this is NOT what St. Paul is talking about.
In St. Paul's writings, the word "flesh" refers to ANYTHING that leads a person away from God. Life in the "spirit" is just the opposite; it connotes anything that leads the human person to God. One commentator wrote that "flesh" in the mind of St. Paul was "humanity in opposition to God." Conversely, "spirit" can be called "humanity in unity with God." Therefore, when we read verse thirteen of chapter eight, we understand that anything that is in opposition to God's will leads us to death. It is also helpful to remember that the Scriptural understanding of death is "life without God." This broadens our notion of the flesh to include any of the various human faults and failings that lead us to forsake God's will and cling to our own.
It is important to read with this understanding because our human flesh can also be the path that leads us to God. Those of us who suffer from chronic illness and/or disability know all too well the limitations of the human body. However, those limitations, if offered as an oblation to God, can be the very things that sanctify our lives. We can only do God's will as human persons, as physical beings. Once our bodies die, we will be unable to choose to do God's will. We will have chosen our path and will reap the benefits of that choice – positive or negative.