There is so much misunderstanding about St. Paul and his apostleship among the general public and among the ‘leaders’ of our churches and ‘teachers’ in the religious academies. It was so from the get go. I hear this in the reaction today from those who know I am reading St. Paul for Lent. I’m sure there are those who even see this endeavor as consistent with inflicting penitence upon oneself during the season of Lent! Nothing could be further from the truth.
Today I began reading Romans. Once more, perhaps even more so than in his previous letters, we are stepping through the garden of Paul’s thought. Careful both to see the weeds that entangle us and equally attentive to the growing and gathering blooms that Paul is championing.
Paul begins by first bringing our attention to the world God created. It proves perfectly reasonable that we should see God in his creation. But unfortunately, Paul admonishes, some took the creatures of creation and made idols of them rather than seeing the one living God in them. I love it that now Paul says that the wicked have no ‘brains’ nor ‘compassion’, which I take to mean that the wicked are not ‘with’ the world as sacred but in the world to use it for their own misguided devices. God’s created world can lead us to God, if we view it properly or it will lead us away if we do not honor the handprint of the Creator upon it. Image and likeness I think applies to the natural world as much as to humans, if we can see beyond the veil, our own distorted thinking about the graceful givenness of the world we inhabit.
Since Paul is talking about first things, he then proceeds to take up the subject, again, of our being saved, in the context of the Jewish people and the Law. Here he means the Mosaic Law. In Romans it reads and feels that Paul is better able (clearer) to address this issue. He uses the word justification. What does that mean in this context? I believe it simply means that in being justified we are freed from our failings (aka sins) and made a new person, the new creation Paul keeps referring to. We once more realize the sacred reality that we are, now one with God in Jesus Christ. We enter a new way of being in Christ.
How refreshing it would be if from the outset the churches as they grew had focused on the goodness of God’s creation as a way to recognize the Creator and that that goodness extends to us. What Mathew Fox calls ‘original blessing’. It is by God’s grace freely given in Christ Jesus that we are made new, without having to do anything first. God created us, chose us, calls us; then sets in place, provides a Way (the Law) to sustain his sacred promise he extends to all his creation, first through the Hebrew people, through whom that promise is to be realized.
The Law then is valued as the guideline in leading us to be a holy, sacred people. It is like the light that shines upon and illumines our path; we are aware of the shadows, the darkness (sin) by contrast. And that the Law came first to us through our Jewish brothers and sisters. And anyone who keeps the Law in his or her heart (as Yahweh in Deuteronomy says) are faithful Jews as well. And now through one Jewish man, the promise continues so that God’s saving, regaining us for himself, can be realized for all. It is a faithful Hebrew man who becomes for all the Way. The Way to the Truth that saves us so that we might have Life. The invitation now extended to everyone, ‘follow me’.