What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25
World-renowned artist, Michelangelo left four unfinished sculptures when he died that have evoked different emotions and interpretations. “The Awakening Slave,” “The Young Slave,” “The Bearded Slave,” and “The Atlas slave” are said to have been left unfinished to represent the eternal struggle of human beings to free themselves from their material trappings. The common theme of these “non-finito” (or incomplete) masterpieces is enslavement. They all represent the struggle of humanity to free the spirit from matter.
In today’s text, Paul expresses a similar desire to free his spirit from his wretched body. Indeed, the human body is wretched, although it is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Paul cherished the thought of being absent from his wretched body because he longed to be with Christ and get his eternal crown from the Lord. He knew that his physical body was a perishable, sinful, and unfinished work in which he felt enslaved at times.
I would not necessarily say that I feel enslaved in my body. However, I do agree that I am an unfinished work. The fact is, no matter how hard I try, or how long I pray, or how much I study the Bible, I will always be a sinful being. And, yes, at times, I do feel trapped in my physical body as I long to be with Christ.
Some people get full of themselves because of the fame or fortune they’ve amassed. Others become egotistically and obnoxiously arrogant because of titles or position, or material possessions they have achieved. Yet we are all unfinished work. We live in a body that is subject to disease, depression, decay, and death.
At my age, I am very cognizant of the fact that even my very best is incomplete. After I have preached my best sermon, I have to fight against spiritual arrogance. When I have helped the poor or visited those in prison, or preach the gospel overseas, I still have to beg the Holy Spirit to fill me up because I continue to leak spiritually.
In truth, most of us are enslaved by our desire for recognition, or our need for validation, or our fear of destitution, or our anxiety about our eternal destination. Michelangelo’s “The Awakening Slave” is said to be one of his most powerful and expressive works among the other slave-theme sculptures. It represents a metaphor of humanity to free itself from the physical constraints of the flesh burdening the soul.
The closer we get to God in our spiritual journey, the more ominous and burdensome the physical constraints become. Many monks and nuns spend their lives in monasteries and nunneries to overcome that sense of enslavement to material trappings. Yet they cannot get away from the fact that we all have to deal with the physical constraints of the flesh burdening the soul.
Our souls are burdened because we thirst for righteousness. Though we want to be in the presence of God, we have a God-given mission to accomplish. That mission must be done in our physical body, though it is unfinished. But I am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Unlike Michelangelo slave-theme sculptures, those who believe in Christ will be finished on the day of rapture. Some of us may still be on the potter’s wheel for now, but we will be finished when the trumpet sounds. Until then, we must die to ourselves daily, so His Holy Spirit can live in us.
Prayer- Blessed Lord, thank you for the hope that we will be finished on the day of Christ Jesus. Please help us to remain steadfast in our service to your kingdom as we await our eternal reward.