From “Sermon 108” (ca. 450)
“I appeal to you by the mercy of God.” Paul makes a request, or rather God makes a request to us through Paul, because he wants to be loved rather than feared. God makes a request, because he does not want to be so much the Lord as a father. God makes a request in his mercy, rather than punish us in his severity.
We hear God crying out to us in Scripture, “O my people, what have I done to you, how have I hurt you? Answer me!” And then listen to what the Lord then says, “If my divinity is something you cannot comprehend, then know me in my flesh. You see me in your body, your limbs, your organs, your bones, your blood. If you are afraid of my divinity, why do you not love me in your humanity? If you run away from your Lord, why do you not run back to your brother? Perhaps you are ashamed because of the greatness of the suffering you inflicted on me. Well, do not be afraid. The cross is not mine; it is the sting of death. These nails do not pierce me with pain; they pierce me more deeply with love of you. These wounds do not draw groans from me; rather they draw you into my heart. The stretching-out of my body makes room for you in my heart; it does not increase my pain. My blood is not lost to me; it is paid in advance for your ransom. Come then, come back to me, and come to know me as a father; for see, I return good for evil, love for injuries, and for deep wounds, a deeper love.
But let us listen now to the content of the appeal St. Paul makes: “I appeal to you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” By this request the apostle has raised all humankind to the level of priests: “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” How unique is the duty of the Christian priesthood! For there we are called to be both sacrifice and priest; we do not look for something outside ourselves to offer to God; we are to bring with ourselves and for ourselves a sacrifice to God. The victim is consumed and the priest’s task can never be completed; the victim is slain but lives, the sacrificing priest us unable to kill. What a wonderful sacrifice! A body is offered without a body, blood without blood. “I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
My brothers and sisters, this sacrifice follows the pattern of Christ himself, who by his life sacrificed his body for the life of the world; he truly made his body a living sacrifice because, though slain, he lives. Be therefore, yourselves both a sacrifice to God and priests. Do not lose what he divine authority gave and conceded to you.
God seeks belief from you, not death. God thirsts for self-dedication, not blood.
St. Peter Chrysologus (ca. 380-450) was Bishop of Ravenna, and most famous preacher of his age, famed for his concise and eloquent homilies, and for his orthodoxy in an age of doctrinal conflict. His epithet, “of the golden word” marks him as the Western counterpart of St. John Chrysostom (‘of the golden mouth”). He is commemorated on July 30.