Last Monday we began reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans. Contrary to what people think, inspite of Paul’s mention of “God’s wrath” and “God’s justice” he isn’t a prophet of doom but a proclaimer of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), that is the Good News that God is putting mankind and the world in a right relationship to Himself in Christ Jesus. This He is doing because what Wisdom and the Law has failed to obtain — justification — Christ has obtained through the shedding of blood (Rom. 3:23-26). A brief rundown of the contents of the letter to the Romans illustrates this:
cc. I-VIII is the proclamation of the Gospel. Gentiles and Jews are all under the wrath of God and none can escape it. The Gentiles with their wisdom and the Jews with their Law are all incapable of standing before God’s justice. The Gentiles by worshipping idols have surrendered to the folly of the world exchanging the truth with a lie; the Jews on the otherhand with their Law are still incapable of doing the good that it proposes. The Law shows what is sinful but is incapable of making one righteous. Jesus Christ has come however so that what man cannot do, God make possible. In Christ, God has opened the way for the justification of man (the process by which man is put “right” with God). Through baptism the Christian has been united with Christ in death so that he can rise victorious with Him in new life. There is no condemnation then for those who have been baptized into Christ.
cc. IX-XI is some sort of an aside: it is Paul’s anguished reflection on the mystery of salvation. On one level, the Jews have rejected Christ and in so doing have paved the way for the entrance of the Gentiles into the household of God. And yet it is also Scriptures that give the testimony that the promise to the “descendants” of Abraham is not to the biological inheritance of Israel alone. It is faith that makes one a descendant of Abraham and therefore an inheritor of the promise. The Jews have stumbled but have not fallen away from grace; they have failed to obey in rejecting Christ, but they have not been rejected altogether. Paul expresses his hope that the Jews themselves will one day turn around and finally accept their place in the family of God.
cc.XII to XV:33 is the exhortatory part of the letter and shows the moral implications of the Gospel that he preaches. It begins with an exhortation to live in accordance with one’s baptism (death on the cross with Christ and the hope of the resurrection) and how this is done in the general areas of communion and fellowship as “Body of Christ”.
Within this general context, one can begin to understand the readings from Rom. 1:16-25 (Tuesday) and Rom. 2:1-11 (Wednesday) which some people consider to be condemnatory and frightening taken as they are independent of the surrounding texts. Seen however from within the context of Rom. 1:18-3:20, another picture appears. Below is an illustration of the context of these passages.
The readings from Romans 1:18-3:20 should be seen as a preparation for the main gospel proclamation about the righteousness of God revealed in Christ (Romans 3:21ff). In other words, Romans 1:18-3:20 which is Paul’s analysis of the human condition in front of God’s wrath is the background for the revelation of God’s righteousness. When all seems lost (“all have sinned”) God himself creates “The Way” in Jesus Christ.
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