Letter to the Romans: The present rejection of the Gospel (9:30-10:13)
Posted on February 3rd 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The distinction between the pagans and the Israelites was not between their desire for righteousness but their method of attaining it. The Jews insisted on the works of the Law while the pagans sought righteousness through faith, in other words through accepting the primacy of God’s action. The difference was between acceptance and pursuit, and the Jews misread the Law’s purpose which was to identify sin in the light of God’s revealed mercy. The Law remained essential for the Jews because it overcame the clouded nature of human knowledge and identified the true nature of motivation. The experience of the Law should have made every Jew recognise that he or she had sinned and therefore stands deprived of God’s glory. Instead it became the reason why they stumbled when encountering Jesus Christ. The method of Jesus Christ’s offer of salvation through faith became a stumbling block to them, so keen were they on the word of the Law.
The zeal of the Jews for the Law, and their misplaced hope in its power, gave them the wrong impression of its purpose. The Law was orientated towards Christ as only He can provide the remedy to what the Law identified as the ubiquity of sin.
St Paul looks for scriptural confirmation with regard to his stance. He quotes from the Book of Leviticus but from his earlier analysis (1:18-3:20), though righteousness may be found by keeping the Law, no-one has yet done so. Indeed, only Jesus Christ, as one born without sin will keep the Law in its entirety. The use of other OT passages to counter this viewpoint may sound forced to our ears. However, to seek righteousness through faith is not asking the impossible because the descent of Christ Himself from heaven, and His rising from the dead was His own act. Christian faith therefore is the response with heart and tongue, not the striving after an unattainable righteousness. At the heart of faith is the identity and biography of Jesus Christ. To be made righteous through the person of Jesus Christ is the first step on the journey. This will conclude in salvation only when the lips confess the truth; in other words when the believer now lives the Christ life in response to the gift of faith.
Jesus begins His public life with a manifesto of liberation
Posted on February 3rd 2013 in Weekly messages
The Church’s extended season of Christmas finally comes to an end on February 2nd, the Feast of Candlemas. The crib is finally returned to the cupboard to await another year. Christmas is a new beginning; the natural excitement of the birth of a child reaches into the world of faith, filling the heart with hope for the future, something that every Christian, whether they attend Church or not, can enjoy. Over these last two Sundays the Church has been celebrating another beginning, that of the public life of Jesus with the proclamation of his opening manifesto, and the circumstances around his first words of teaching.
This manifesto was delivered in the synagogue of His home town. Jesus reads a passage from the Prophet Isaiah that gives content to all the sentiments of hope surrounding the birth of Jesus at Christmas. The manifesto of liberation, of restoring the blind their sight, the deaf their hearing, and the prisoner their freedom, is being identified by Jesus with Himself. He will achieve through His mission exactly what the Prophet Isaiah has identified. This message of liberation will fall on deaf ears if one fails to grasp that Jesus’ mission has as much validity now as it did then. In our own country of plenty it can sometimes be difficult to grasp how the message can be applied, as we seem to be relatively healthy and free. Hiding behind such sentiments is pride and with that the self-assertion with regard to our own moral worth.
The mistake is to think that who we are now and what we experience now is the best that can be expected. The transformation of the world, and of one’s life too, can seem nothing but a dream. The history of humanity demonstrates how the search for human perfection quickly descends into violence to achieve these ends. The transformation of society can never be achieved from the top down. Jesus, however, invites us to transform from the bottom up, starting with ourselves, our immediate families, and from them beyond to our own communities.
How in our own society can the message of liberation be discovered once again? Perhaps a place to start is to distinguish between production and purpose or, to use the ancient distinction, between praxis, how to do things, and poesis, why to do things. Most of life can seem to be one endless round of production, whether it is washing the clothes or preparing family meals at home, or processing needless emails and irrelevant meetings at work. All these are necessary parts of home and working life but they cannot be the last word. If it were so this work of production becomes a type of slavery, and the humanity of the person has been lost.
The distinction has to be looked at in another way. Life itself needs no justification. No-one needs to justify their existence as such, their actions certainly, but not life itself which is a gift from God. There is a need continually to remember this within the daily world of ceaseless production. The purpose of work is the flourishing of life, family life and community life in all its forms. Jesus takes us back to our true humanity not simply to confirm us as we are now, but to open up a vista to life, and also to discover the real cause as to why human life has shrunk into this incessant world of production. There is no option to give up looking after your family, or to give up work. Instead the invitation of Jesus is to discover life’s broader purpose, to take delight in life itself and to grasp how enslaved one has become to false goals and gods.
Jesus gives us the key to understanding the meaning of life. The key is always a gift from God and so jealousy can play no part in the life of faith. The townspeople could not accept that their local resident could say that God’s graces flowed beyond the confines of Nazareth, and even of Israel itself. If one cannot accept that others can equally be the recipient of God’s liberating message then it fails to take root in our own hearts as well. The season of Lent will soon be upon us so this might be the time through our Lenten practices to discover how the offer of liberation described by Jesus can transform our own life and the lives of those around us.
Letter to the Romans: Précis of Chapter 9:1-21, and 9:22-29
Posted on January 20th 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The elaborate argument established by St Paul up to this point has left one obvious issue that would have struck his readers as requiring an answer. How could one account for the vast majority of Jews who have failed to grasp the logic of revelation, of God’s openness to the pagans, and the sharing of His gifts with them.
St Paul begins his explanation with a reference to his genuine sorrow as to the unbelief of the Jews, since Jesus was from their flesh and blood, and God has not reneged on His promises. He constructs his arguments using what to modern ears sounds a convoluted exegesis of biblical texts with regard to the birth of Isaac and the choice of Jacob over Esau. The divine initiative as expressed in these choices is not consequent on human action, whether good or evil. This explanation does not deny free will, but demonstrates that wider spiritual realities are at stake with regard to every human choice. In the words of St Paul, God puts up with people who incur His wrath so that he can show His divine mercy to others.
These methods of arguments used by St Paul were to demonstrate that God has not abandoned His original promises. This argument would safeguard the consistency of God’s choice and with it the human confidence to place one’s trust in Him. The first few chapters of the letter (1:18-3:20) have shown how God’s legitimate anger against human wrongdoing is held in abeyance owing to His long-suffering, but this situation cannot last forever. These so-called final days are the time for a change of heart, faith and for hope. St Paul justifies this unfolding of God’s plan, to include the Gentiles and only a remnant of Israel through a use of Old Testament quotes. The quotes from the prophet Hosea (2:23 and 1:10) demonstrate that God calls the people together. God’s creative power gathers the scattered tribes of Jews into ‘a people’. The free exercise of this power is perfectly able to create the new people of the Church. The small number of Jewish converts may be explained, as by the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of only a remnant being saved. This remnant is translated as ‘seed’ by St Paul using the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The seed contains all future Israel, and the rest will disappear. The seed makes an obvious analogy with Jesus Christ, so that all of the future Israel lies within Him.