Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 22nd: Psalm 39; Ezekiel 17:1-10; and Romans 2:12-16. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Paul is writing to the mixed community of believers that is the church at Rome. Indications are that this local church is made up of both Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians in significant proportions. Additionally, Paul self-acknowledges as “an apostle to the Gentiles.” (Romans 11:13) This may mean that the Jewish-Christians hold him suspect. Paul must reach out to both groups without pandering to either. Additionally, as Paul writes this Epistle, he has never yet visited the church at Rome. His other writings rely heavily on his personal connections with his readers. In Romans, Paul is a recognized voice, but not a recognized face.
Romans closes with the longest of the Pauline personal greetings. What is interesting, is that Romans sounds as if it reaches its conclusion at the end of Chapter 15. There’s even a formal “Amen” at that point. Scholars posit that the greetings that commence after this ending are a postscript written possibly by Tertius, Paul’s scribe (Romans 16:22), and that Tertius is the one who knows most of the ones listed. Tertius, in this way, is attempting to bolster Paul’s appeal because Paul is basically unknown to this community.
What Paul must do in Rome, under all these circumstances, is to open the community to each other and to him, and this begins with turning them away from the inclination to judgment. Paul stands-up for the Jewish-Christians and their continuing fealty to the Mosaic Law, but he expands upon its reach by saying that the Gentiles, the non-Jews, may “do instinctively what the law requires.” Paul is asking his readers to look at another’s actions for what they do is what matters.
Then with a rather amazing turn of phrase, Paul states that “according to my gospel” judgment will be handled by God through Christ who will judge according to “the secret thoughts of all.” In other words, Paul is professing as “my gospel” that Jesus is in the position to judge; we are not. So we need to be open to others rather than judge others, and welcome their differences because it’s what we do that matters.
And isn’t that Jesus’ gospel too. Didn’t Jesus hold up the despised Samaritan rather than the honoured priest and Levite in response to the lawyer’s question, “‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Didn’t Jesus begin His answer by saying, “‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’” (Luke 10:25-26) And didn’t Jesus illustrate this teaching by holding up one who was accused by the Law of apostasy? And hasn’t the Good Samaritan come to symbolize what is most cherished and respected in Christianity?
We today live in a world filled with differences, and they are differences that interact constantly. The world is growing smaller. I enjoy listening to the recordings of Playing for Change (www.playingforchange.com) because they draw out these differences by highlighting what we hold dear in common. How healing it could be if we would give Paul’s “my gospel” a better chance in our lives, that we would refrain from judging what we are not in a position to judge, and to look at what another is doing to build our connections and our good works. Maybe then writ large we could discover the way to work together amid our differences in the world just as Paul did in the church at Rome.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Children Sunday School 9:30-10:30am
Nursery care available during worship
Make a single or recurring contribution by clicking here