St Paul’s Letter to the Romans: The final appeal for unity (15:7-13)
Posted on June 23rd 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
This passage brings to a conclusion a number of themes that have been running since the first chapter. St Paul carefully mapped out why both the pagans and the Jews required the free given mercy of God through the gift of Jesus Christ. The possession of the Law by the Jews does not excuse them from the need of God’s mercy. The universal need for divine mercy in order to establish a right relationship is attainable through placing one’s trust in Jesus Christ (the consequence of which is called justification) (c.1-4). This leads St Paul to contrast Jesus Christ with Adam, a contrast between the last and first man. The last man, Christ, brings life, the first brought death (the consequence of the fall from paradise). The Catholic Church’s teaching on original sin is established on this contrast between, on the one hand, the universal salvation offered by Jesus Christ and, on the other, the descent of all people from Adam and Eve. (c.5)
The work of redemption by Jesus Christ through His death and Resurrection has formed a solid foundation to the Christian life, but has yet to be absorbed by all people. The Christian life remains a struggle between the Spirit (the progressive liberation of the soul) and the Law (as the mere bodily outward observance) (cs 6-7). The universal offer of salvation does not negate the promises made to the Jews, God’s chosen people. Their refusal of the Messiah could be seen as having a higher purpose in that it brought the pagans into the orbit of God’s salvation through the mission of the universal Church (c. 9-11).
St Paul now turns to the daily life of the community which should be an expression of the ‘justification’ established by the free love of God in Jesus Christ. At no time did God have to save His people, but he chose to out of love alone. Love should therefore be the touchstone of the Christian community, both in its internal and external relationships. This final passage (15:7-13) concludes a section on the practical application of the principle of love, the search for unity between strong and weak members. The immediate source of St Paul’s comments was the issue of eating meat used in pagan temples, something forbidden to Jews. However, the principles established by St Paul extend far wider. The search for unity within the Christian community allows faith in the work of Jesus to burst forth into hope that God’s purposes will be fulfilled.
The ‘who’ of Jesus is a not mere word but a way of life that leads to true happiness
Posted on June 23rd 2013 in Weekly messages
When Jesus interrogated His disciples after their tour of Galilee and before their journey to Jerusalem, He did not ask them, ‘what did I say back at the lakeshore?’ but ‘Who do you say I am?’ The question is very different, and is the difference between spiritual sentiment and faith. Spiritual sentiment describes all those religious intimations derived from art and literature, the outpourings of the Romantic imagination which have produced great works of the human spirit right through to the present age. The works of Walter Scott are now replaced by the Harry Potter books. These tales demonstrate that right and wrong, good and evil, and the search for happiness and meaning are not the products of humanity but precede the life of each of us. They form a framework within which our own life choices are necessarily made. The world therefore, even for a non believer, demands a personal engagement not simply impersonal disinterest. The world holds within it a hidden I-You relationship.
This relationship is brought fully alive in the person of Jesus Christ, the ‘who’ of God. The identity of Jesus Christ, as the Son of the God made flesh, brings this into the open. Jesus Christ acts as brother, and who gave His Holy Spirit as His parting gift to the Apostles that they collectively would continue to be a brother and sister to humanity. An obvious question one might ask is why, but the answer is not found in words alone, but in an action, ‘to take up the Cross and follow me’. The answer is found in the life giving love expressed through Jesus’ death on the Cross. The answer is never abstract but demands the full engagement of one’s whole life.
The identity, life and death of Jesus place a spotlight on our human condition, and that the frame of reference in which our life choices are made is both fragmented and distorted. This fragmentation and distortion are not such that the good, the true and beautiful cannot be discerned, nor that the purpose of life to seek happiness is completely blurred. These can be discerned, but what has also been discovered is the intrinsic weakness of the human will. The search for happiness will always involve contradictions in the content of human desire. So often what seems superficially attractive begins later to reveal itself as profoundly damaging to all concerned, whether it be the unsaid assumptions of co-habitation, the attractiveness of someone other than one’s wife or husband, or the demands of one’s own friends pitted against the good of one’s family.
The divine love revealed in the ‘who’ of Jesus and made present within the Church gives reassurance that the contradiction involved in taking up of the Cross, is not taken up alone, and becomes the grace-filled journey where the deeper happiness can be found.
St Paul’s Letter to the Romans: The tolerance incumbent upon all (14:22-15:6)
Posted on June 2nd 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
Faith is the name given to the relationship of belief between men and women, and the God who saves in Christ. This is ultimately a gift, even if it seems that ‘we’ are doing the believing. As a gift from God it is described as justification, the making of oneself at right with God.. This foundation made irrelevant the need for religious scrupulosity in relation to certain practices, such as eating meat. However, a public display of recognising the ability to act in this way is tantamount to denying the justification effected by Christ. This is especially true with regard to weaker brothers and sisters who are not yet convinced of the power of faith in relation to the old Laws, and thus eat meat for the wrong reasons, such as not seeking the condemnation of others. In this case their formation is not yet complete, and the cause of their sin lies in the actions of the strong, who mistakenly use the ability to eat meat as a chance to show off, even if their conscience is clear on the point. These dense sentences (14:22-23) emphasise ‘the need to harmonise moral discernment with the conviction of faith and the realities of charity’.
Every community possesses both the weak and the strong, and the reconciling of both is necessary for the health of the community so that it is ‘united in mind and voice’ (15:6). This does not mean that everyone has to agree on everything. The strong, without giving up on their newly won freedom (to eat any meat), can make a positive donation of their freedom to eat meat in order to help the weaker members whose conscience forbids them to do so. This is not to condone a moral and cultic free for all but is orientated to the establishment of the common good (v2).
The invitation to self-sacrifice in terms of the common good mirrors the self-emptying mind set of Jesus Christ. St Paul quotes Ps 69 and the necessity of suffering on behalf of others which were enveloped within God’s wider plan.
The aim was to produce this single mind and voice that would be the appropriate fruit of every Christian community being ‘in Christ’. The ability to engender this one voice is the mark of true leadership within the Church, and is needed more than ever as so many aspects of the Church seem to be polarised with regard to moral issues. (To be continued).
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