Year A: 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Second Reading: Romans 3: 21-25,28
Today, we begin a series of readings from the letter that St Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in about 57 AD.
The community of Christians in Rome - like those of other cities - was no longer exclusively Jewish and, as the “Apostle to the Gentiles”, St Paul had had cause to reflect on the implications of this.
The Jews held the Law in great esteem and saw adherence to it as leading to life and blessing (see today’s First Reading) The problem was that it was seen as fairly exclusive - they were the Chosen People - and so everyone else was, be definition, not chosen.
The proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles - and their willing acceptance of it posed problems for some of the early Church leaders who had assumed that Christ came as the Jewish Messiah. Why then did the message seem to take root so readily among non-Jews? What was the status of the Law to be if people who lived outside it could be saved?
St Paul tackles something of this problem in the extract from the letter that we read today.
He reminds his readers that God’s justice was known to the Jews long before it had been known to the Gentiles. He had revealed it to the Jewish people in the Law and through the Prophets. What has been revealed in Jesus Christ is that this justice was destined for the whole world. Sin was part of the condition of Jew and Gentile alike - but, through the sacrifice of one man, Jesus, all men and women were reconciled to God. All those who believe in Jesus - and in His loving sacrifice - are justified before God.
This is a huge grace. No-one - no matter how hard they try - no matter what mighty works they accomplish - can earn justification. We cannot put ourselves right with God by anything we do or say (see today’s Gospel). Our justification comes as a free gift from God and is rooted in our faith in Jesus.
Such a grace will, of course, bear fruit in our actions - the fruits of which we can offer back to God as evidence of our gratitude for that grace. It becomes a non-vicious circle where justification begets gratitude - which begets love in action - which deepens our sense of being justified - which begets... and which begets - and so on into eternity.
What does it mean for me?
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