Summary: Year A. Second Sunday in Advent December 9th, 2001 Title: “Equating “old,” with “holy,” and “new” with “unholy.” Romans 15: 4-13
Year A. Second Sunday in Advent
December 9th, 2001
Title: “Equating “old,” with “holy,” and “new” with “unholy.” Romans 15: 4-13
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Here ends the 2nd, reading.)
This letter, written to a church Paul did not found, divides nicely in two sections, a doctrinal one, chapters one to eleven and an ethical one, chapters twelve to fifteen. This is true of all of Paul’s authentic letters. The doctrinal section is expository in nature and style; the ethical section is exhortatory. First Paul lays out what a Christian is by virtue of Christ in the doctrinal section. Then, he lays out what a Christian should do in order to be true to what he or she has been made by Christ. The Pauline formula is: Become what you are. Become, in this world, what you already are in God’s world. Paul is clear that the Mosaic legal prescriptions are no longer the norm for Christian conduct. Yet, there are moral demands on the Christian if he or she is to authentically reflect the new creation he or she has become. But they are now principles, not prescriptions, at work in the Christian, and the basic one, the overriding one; the all-encompassing one is love or charity.
Since all are united to Christ, ontologically, in God’s world, God’s eyes, God’s estimation, all are to be united in Christ, functionally, in this visible world. The unity of the Christian community requires individual Christians to pursue certain common goals. They all lead to and flow from unity. In so far as this unity is a divine reality already, it can only be expressed in behavior. In so far as this unity is a divinely expressed goal for humans, it must be arrived at by the common pursuit of what is good. Therefore Christians are to worship and live in the one Spirit, attitude, of God as it was revealed in the attitude and behavior of Christ. Paul takes the most general principle, love, and applies it to specific circumstances, showing what love-in-action would look like and exhorting his readers to actually live out that principle in a concrete way. Yet, Paul does not get so concrete, so specific, that his exhortations cross the line into exact prescriptions. He is not prescribing good works, sneaking them in the back door, as it were, after formally expelling them out the front door. He is saying that if Christians are to become what they are, that is, saved, they are now to do good works, not in order to be saved, but, because they already have been saved. Good works are now the result of salvation, not the cause. The Christian behaves out of gratitude for salvation received, received by the grace of God, not achieved by the works of humans.
There were some Christians, specifically Jewish Christians, who had a hard time with all the freedom Paul’s teaching would imply. They were used to exact prescriptions: worship this way on this day, eat this and not that, wash this just this way and when, etc. These specific ways of expressing faith in God were no longer seen as necessary or even salutary ways. Paul called such Christians “weak,” hardly a flattering term. The “strong,” like Paul himself, could handle Christian freedom, unlike the “weak,” who still harbored legalistic scruples. Paul’s position towards them is essentially the same as he advocated in 1Cor, namely, “Love over knowledge.” Even though a stronger Christian knows a particular traditional practice of piety to be irrelevant to Christian salvation, the one of “stronger” faith is to avoid giving scandal to the “weaker,” out of love. One should not flaunt freedom at the expense of another’s conscience, even though the other is wrong. Love demands a different approach. The Christian is to adopt the attitude of Christ, the Suffering Servant, who bore even the reproaches of his enemies with long-suffering, fortitude and forbearance. If this was Jesus’ attitude toward people who were a lot more wrong than the “weak,” Christians, then it should be the attitude and approach of the “strong,” Christians. If they are truly free in Christ, then they are free to be patient and kind, not merely correct.