Tagged: righteousness

Romans 10:5-15

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on August 13, 2017.

We’ve all had that feeling: when a costly misstep leads us to question our place in the home, at work, or in society.  For many of us, most days are filled with confidence—we feel we are doing a good job of parenting and being a good spouse; we are living up to the expectations of our employers, and we are serving our society in commendable ways.  But then comes the blunder that leads to sharp self-criticism; the missed goals and targets for the year that causes us to question whether we are up to the task; or the bad news about our children that raises questions about our parenting or our marriage.  We work hard and strive to be a success at everything we do, but any of the above can lead to even the most confident among us asking whether we are good enough.  We can become gripped and overwhelmed by the shame we work so hard to avoid.  When our lives are built on doing and achieving, failure to produce successful works can result in shame.

In Romans 10:5-15 Paul contrasts the type of righteousness that Israel has sought to achieve through the Law with the type that God has provided through faith.  The former type of righteousness Paul labels as being generated from human effort; according to Paul, Israel sought to establish her own righteousness (Romans 10:3).  This type of righteousness is pursued through human effort, and it is achieved through fulfilling the requirements of the Law.  In Paul’s own words, this is a righteousness “that comes from the Law” (Romans 10:5); it comes by a person doing and living by the Law.  But such righteousness can be far from many, especially for those who do not lay claim to the Law by birth.  In this pericope, one of Paul’s biggest issues with this type of righteousness is that it is not “near” to everyone.  And by this Paul reiterates a point he has made earlier in Romans that the Law is the possession of only one group—the Jews.  Thus, if righteousness is based on the Law, then it would leave out non-Jews, and this would, in turn, suggest that God is a God of Jews only: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (Romans 3:29-30).  In other words, God has to have a basis for establishing righteousness that would apply equally to both Jews and Gentiles.  This is what Paul calls in Romans 10 “the righteous that comes from faith” (Romans 10:6).

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Matthew 10:40-42

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.

This passage comes at the end of a long conversation between Jesus and his disciples, where Jesus assures them, and presumably every Christian that comes after them, of his unending presence and blessing despite the many challenges that will certainly come along. Coming at the end of that conversation these four verses can feel anticlimactic, even a little confusing. But there is an interesting logic for those with the energy to work through it. This logic reveals to us something about what it means for God to be with Christians, what blessing looks like amidst those certain challenges.

Much of the passage revolves around the notion of reception, of Jesus, prophets, disciples, and so on. A proper translation will emphasize what is being received and why it is being received, “whoever welcomes a prophet because she or he is a prophet” and “whomever welcomes a righteous person because she or he is a righteous person” such that what is being received, and hence what is being credited to the one who receives, is prophesy and righteousness. Jesus has in mind here those able to receive prophesy/righteousness because they can both identify genuine prophesy/righteousness and have room in their lives for its goods. According to this logic, Jesus seems to be saying that those are the kind of people who can make room for God in their lives. And those able to receive Jesus will also be able to receive the disciples who advance Jesus’ cause of prophesy and righteousness: “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…” What Jesus praises is precisely the quality of identifying and receiving prophesy, righteousness, discipleship which betokens the ability to identify and receive Jesus and his disciples. In this way, v. 41-42 simply follows the logic set forth in v. 40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (NRSV).

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Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on March 12th, 2017.

When the apostle Paul wrote the Book of Romans he had never been to Rome. In spite of that unusual fact, he knew the Romans. The Romans included a unique mix of Roman citizens, non-citizens, Greeks, Jews, barbarians, educated and non-educated persons. Rome appeared to many as the center of the world.  Roman power, government, law, oppression, and the Roman penchant for keeping Romans happy with a supply of bread and entertainment known as the circuses kept the Romans in order and believing in the Roman ideal. “When in Rome do as the Romans do,” while a cute phrase for today’s culture, became a way of life for Romans. Put simply, you did not want to violate Roman law and protocol because to do so involved harsh consequences.

The church started, more than likely, near the Jewish synagogue. Church planters taught the Christian basics of Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and how to live as a Christian. The whole realm of Christianity appeared foreign to Roman officials and to next door neighbors. What was Christianity? Was it a form of Judaism with its special practices of feast days, Sabbath rites, and dietary restrictions (Romans 14)? Or was it a religion altogether different from Judaism? And, if the church started near the synagogue and many of the first Christians in Rome were Jews, who and what kind of person should the church welcome (Romans 14:1; 15:7). Whom to welcome into the church and how to relate to others who had become Christians created questions and even problems in the church. Never mind that the answer to such a question and problem should be simply solved both then and now, the reality of “other” people different than them stirred controversy and conflict in the church.

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Luke 18:9-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 23rd, 2016.

The head of the Pharisee
The head of the Pharisee

In this parable, we see that Jesus is teaching about trust and humility.  The contrast that is set up is between a Pharisee, who we can assume is among the crowd who “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” and the tax collector who “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his bread and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”  What sticks out is that we have one character who the crowds may look to for spiritual direction when it comes to how we are to approach God in prayer, while the other is a character who is likely not regarded as a “great person” among the crowd but approaches God with a humble and honest heart.  Right away, we see areas for fruitful reflection on the differences in these two characters and the heart that Jesus is interested in for people that desire to be in fellowship with God.

It’s the Pharisee who has followed the rules and done everything that was asked of him.  He has established himself as an honest man and knows that society likely sees him as a good person.  Tax collectors, on the other hand, may likely be lumped into the category that the Pharisee says he is not – robber, evildoer.  He’s probably seen as a leech and traitor for working with Rome at the time and being a burden on the people who are barely scraping by to feed their families.  So with this parable, what do we learn about what God finds commendable in a person’s actions?  What sort of qualities might the world acclaim that establishes a person as “good” in the eyes of society?

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