Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.
Please report any problems with Daily Reflections here.
Thursday, February 16
Romans 11:1-10: Paul has already suggested two considerations that qualify Israel's rejection of the Gospel. First, the rejection was not complete, because a remnant of Israel remained faithful. Second, Israel's defection proved to be a blessing for the Gentiles (much as Esau's defection had proved a blessing for Jacob). The second of these considerations will receive a more ample treatment in the present chapter, as Paul subsumes it into an elaborate dialectic of history.
First, Israel's falling away is only partial (verses 4-5), and Paul counts himself among the faithful remnant (verse 1; Philippians 3:5; Acts 13:21). Even during the ninth century before Christ, when all Israel seemed to have become devotees of Baal ("I alone am left, and they seek to take my life!" - 1 Kings 19:14), a remnant had been spared (verses 2-4). Even now, then, Paul was no more alone than Elijah had been. God had not abandoned Israel in those days; He would not abandon Israel now, because "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (verse 29).
A sign of that irrevocable call, Paul says, is the Jewish remnant in the Christian Church (verse 5; once again, the "eschatological now"). Not even this remnant, however, is justified by the Law but by grace (verse 6).
The irrevocable nature of God's election leads to Paul's second consideration, namely, that the falling away of Israel is only temporary. God has future plans for Israel. For the moment, however, Israel is acting in blindness (verses 7-8), which is the source of Paul's sadness (9:1-2; 10:1). He observes that Israel's blindness had been commented on by others before himself, such as Isaiah (verse 8) and David (verses 9-10). That is to say, Israel's current defection had no shortage of precedents in the past. If God remained faithful to Israel back then, He surely remains faithful to Israel now and will manifest that fidelity in days to come. The course of history will prove the Jews to be God's elect and predestined people.
Paul's comments on the irrevocable nature of God's fidelity to Israel prompts two further considerations of a theological nature:
First, it is clear that in Paul's entire treatment of election and predestination, these terms refer to social entities, not individuals. Nowhere in Romans, or elsewhere, does Paul show any concern for individual predestination. It is simply outside his scope of interest, and none of his statements on the subject of predestination and election have any relevance to such a concern. For Holy Scripture, it is always a matter of the "chosen people," not a collection of chosen individuals.
Election and predestination in Paul, therefore, are matters of ecclesiology, not individual salvation. Thus, here in chapter eleven he treats the Jews as God's chosen people, because "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." The context is entirely social and historical, not individual.
Consequently, it would be a mammoth distortion of the text to apply these verses to the spiritual lives of individuals, pretending that God, having called them to justification, is somehow obliged to save them, even if they turn their backs on Him. God is said to remain faithful to Israel, but this does not imply that all Jews will be saved. God remains faithful to the Church, but that does not insure that all Christians will be saved. In short, these texts are not about individual salvation.
Second, "Israel" in these verses is a biological/religious term, not a political designation. Consequently, it would be a colossal distortion of the Sacred Text to suggest that the modern State of Israel is somehow the predestined beneficiary of God's blessings. The modern State of Israel is simply that, nothing more. It has no more theological significance than any other political institution in this world. The Lord and Judge of History holds the State of Israel to the same standards of morality and justice that He imposes on all nations. As is the case with any other nation, God will bless the State of Israel if it serves Him in its social and political life. God will condemn it if it is unjust or oppressive in its social and political life. But the State of Israel, as such, has not the slightest claim on any other biblical promises or biblical prophecies.
Friday, February 17
Romans 11:11-21: Here Paul introduces his metaphor of the olive tree in order to illustrate how it is that non-Jews find themselves as members the ancient plant of Israel. That is to say, how is it that "Abraham is the father of us all"?
The failure of most Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is described by Paul as the lopping off of branches from the olive tree of Israel, and the entry of the Gentiles into the Christian Church he portrays as an engrafting of alien branches into the earlier stock. The tree, however, remains the same. The ancient calling of the Israelites has not been abrogated. It remains the root-work of the whole plant.
How should Christians react to this crucial development of salvation history? What should be their relationship to the Jews? Paul mentions two things, one negative and the other positive.
Negatively, Christians must not be boasters and smart alecks. They must avoid pride about their own engrafting into the ancient tree (verse 18). After all, it was by faith that they were engrafted; they had done nothing to deserve it. Divine grace should be received with reverence, not with smug self-satisfaction. The Christian must not look down on the Jew or give himself airs with respect to them. If the native branches themselves were lopped off of the tree, then the engrafted branches should be especially cautious, lest they too suffer the same fate (verse 21). There is nothing less attractive than a smirking Christian, and the Christian who boats against the Jews, or contemns the Jews, or speaks with disdain of the Jews, is a moral abomination.
(It should be noted here that Paul clearly does not espouse any idea that defection from Christ is impossible. Indeed, he obviously presumes that it IS possible. Christians must "fear," says verse 21.)
Positively, Christians should endeavor to make the Jews "jealous" (verse 14). Here is what Paul means: The first Gentiles joined the Christian Church because they were "jealous" of the blessings enjoyed by the Jews and were looking for an opportunity to share those blessings (verse11). Now it is time for the process to work the other way. It is time for the Christians to make the Jews themselves jealous! That is to say, Christians should live in such a way that the Jews will want to share in the blessings of the life in Christ, because the life in Christ is meant to be, in fact, their own inheritance. Christ is the fulfillment of all of Israel's deepest longings, and if Jews see Christians sharing blessings that properly belong to themselves, they too will become jealous.
What should this mean in practice? At the very least it should mean that Christians keep a special place in their hearts for the Jews, because the Jews have a special place in the heart of God. Christians will recognize in the Jews the blood-relatives of the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, The Virgin Mother of God, and Christ our Lord.
From this perspective anti-Semitism ranks just below blasphemy in the order of demonisms.
In verse 11, the translation "salvation has come for the Gentiles" is inaccurate. In the Greek text (he soteria tois ethnesin) there is no explicit verb, and we have already commented that in Romans the verbs connected to "salvation" are normally in the future tense. The sense of the expression, then, seems to mean "there will be salvation for the Gentiles."
If the defection of Israel proved to be such a blessing for the whole world, what a grater blessing it will be when the Jews return to their own inheritance (verses 12,15). It is this return that Paul will presently predict.
The expression "life from the dead" is figurative. It is not a reference to the final resurrection, to which Paul normally refers with a quite different expression, "resurrection of the dead," anastasis nekron (6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:12,13,21,42; Acts 17:32; 23:6; 24:21; 26:23).
Saturday, February 18
Romans 11:22-36: It has long been common to distinguish between God's mercy and His justice, the former being the source of salvation, the latter the basis for punishment. This distinction, however, is overly simple, and consequently misleading.
In Holy Scripture the justice of God, His righteousness-dikaiosyne-is also the fount of salvation. It is not that Christ, by His passion and death, reconciled us to God's justice. God's justice, His righteousness, is the very cause of our redemption. He redeemed us in His righteousness. He redeemed us, furthermore, in order to manifest His righteousness by showing mercy.
The righteousness of God is not an abstract quality in God that obliges man to measure up. The righteousness of God is, rather, that activity of God that causes man to measure up. In dying on the cross, Jesus did not address Himself to God's righteousness. On the contrary, He Himself expressed God's righteousness. He was the expression, the very embodiment, of God's righteousness.
Nonetheless, that popular distinction between God's mercy and His justice, even though inadequate and misleading, seems to be an attempt to express a real difference, and that difference appears to be what Paul has in mind by distinguishing between God's kindness and His severity (verse 22).
The continuance of God's kindness, though unmerited and freely bestowed, does depend on human perseverance. "Otherwise you also will be cut off," writes St. Paul. This apostle knows nothing about a level of grace that precludes the possibility of the believer's defection. Even as he holds the winning hand, foolish man may still choose to discard. God's grace never removes the freedom of man's choice.
But just as it is possible for a believer to fall, it is also possible for an unbeliever to rise. The defection of the Jews, therefore, is not necessarily final (verse 23). Their return to the ancient tree would seem especially fitting (verse 24). Indeed, this is what God has in mind (verse 25). It is the "mystery" (mysterion) of His plan for the Jews, when history has run the proper measure of its course.
The "all Israel" that will be saved appears to refer to the fullness of the Church, drawn from both Jews and Gentiles. This return to the Gospel, Paul believed, was prophesied by Isaiah (verses 26-27).
God's guidance of history is complex, not because God is complex, but because man's infidelities have complicated the process. Far from being the mere unfolding of the divine foreknowledge-and even less the enactment of a divine decree-history is the encounter of man's freedom with God's, an encounter in which God subsumes human mistakes into a more ample redemptive pattern. The format of this pattern is dialectical, in that the human resistance to God's will (sin, disobedience) become part of that will's very application. This is the pattern that God followed with the Gentiles. It is now the pattern that He will follow with the Jews.
Truly, God's plans for the Jews have never changed, because God keeps faith with the patriarchs, to whom He made so many promises. The Jewish people are still the apple of His eye (verses 28-29).
In the sin of Adam, God consigned (synekleisen) all to disobedience. This has been the history of the human race. God's wisdom, however, and His fathomless counsel have so directed man's disobedience as to bring about his redemption. All of this history He has guided in the direction of mercy (verse 32). All that He does He does in mercy. Paul finishes this chapter with a brief doxology to the divine mercy (verses 33-36).
Sunday, February 19
Romans 12:1-8: Here begins the "therefore" (verse 1) section of Romans, in which Paul enunciates the practical moral and ascetical inferences to be drawn from the dogmatic premises elaborated in the first eleven chapters (compare Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:1, and so forth).
Although the believer has been delivered from the works of the Mosaic Law, "the curse of the Law," he has by no means been freed from the works of the Gospel. As the Sermon on the Mount repeatedly asserts, the works of the Gospel are far more demanding than the works of the Law (cf. Matthew 5:17-22,27-28,33-34,38-39,43-44, and so on). At baptism the believer assumes responsibility, and if he refuses to take that responsibility seriously he runs the risk of defection from the faith and being cut off from Christ (11:20-22).
Listed first here, among the components of this responsibility, is the duty of cultivating bodily holiness, because the body itself is the bearer of the Holy Spirit, who will in due course raise it from the dead (8:11). Paul is reviewing here the plea that he made for bodily holiness in 6:12-13,19-20. This ascetical effort he now describes in the imagery of sacrifice (cf. Philippians 4:18; 1 Peter 2:5).
This and moral ascetical effort, because it stands directly at variance with the standards, interests, and aspirations of the world, will also require an adversarial attitude toward the world. To the world the Christian must not "conform" (verse 2). The Greek word indicating worldly conformity here is syschematizesthe, in which the attentive reader will discern the root word, schema. The world, that is to say, tends to "schematize" human beings by imposing an outward pattern on them. (A view verses later Paul will contrast the world's outward uniformity with the great diversity among Christians.)
The believer, however, is not to adopt the "schemes" of the world. He is to "conform" but to be "transformed," metamorphousthe, this verb indicating an inner change (meta) of form (morphe). Outward conformity is replaced by inner renewal.
This transformation comes from what Paul calls a "newness of mind," implying a radical alteration of both the content and the processes of thought. The thought-life of the Christian mind (nous), precisely because it is "the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16) will bear less and less resemblance to the ideas of the world, as the believer is transformed by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Unlike that of the world, Christian thinking will be humble, sober, and self-effacing (verse 3). In this respect each believer is to measure himself by the standard that he has received in the Christian faith, "the measuring rod of faith" (metron pisteos). This standard will permit not man to entertain too high a view of himself (Philippians 2:5-10).
In verse 4 Paul introduces the image of the body to describe the Christian Church, in which the members are coordinated with one another and mutually serve one another. He had already developed this image at some length nearly three years earlier (1 Corinthians 6:12-20; 10:16-17; 12:12-31). Here, however, Paul does not relate the image explicitly to the Holy Eucharist as he had done earlier. Here in Romans we see a stage of Paul's thinking on this subject, which will culminate over the next few years in Colossians and Ephesians.
The Body of the Church is clearly an institution, not a general and abstract concept, and to it the Christian must adhere. There is no such thing as a private Christian (verses 6-8). The Christian Church, the living Body to which the Christian adheres, is not merely an aid to a private Christian life. It is not as though "going to church makes it easier to be a Christian." That is quite beside the point. The purpose of the Church is not to aid Christians in their Christian pursuit. It pertains to the very essence of their Christian pursuit. The Christian life, by its very nature, means life in the Christian Church.
The Christian Church is not an abstraction. It is an organization. And it is an organization because it is an organism, of which believers are living and active parts. Their personal and moral endeavors, therefore, are not directed solely to their own personal sanctification, but to the maintenance, well-being, growth, and perfection of the Body.
The perfection of the Church is indicated by Paul's listing of the "diverse gifts" as seven, which in the Bible is the number of perfection.
Monday, February 20
Romans 12:9-21: With respect to the works of the Gospel, these verses provide a lively list. Among the duties and disciplines enumerated here, we observe that most have to do with the mutual relations among Christians (verses 9-10,13,16), though certain of these particulars also look to relationships outside the communion of the Church (verses 14,17-21).
Christian love is genuine-literally "un-hypocritical," anypokritos (verse 9); it goes beyond the civility and politeness required in a decent society.
It is morally discerning, however, not confusing evil and good. Indeed, it is striking to find, amidst these sundry admonitions to love, a clear injunction to hate: "Abhor what is evil." Those things in society that are abhorrent should be regarded with abhorrence, not tolerance, and this too is a duty of Christian love.
The love to be cultivated is not only the spiritual love called agape, but includes also those more common qualities of philadelphia (fraternal love), philostorge (affection), time (esteem), and philoxenia (hospitality) (verses 10,13).
Such things are impossible except by the personal cultivation of patience, hope, and prayer (verse 12). This prayer will embrace one's enemies (verse 14; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28) and require the forgiveness of wrongs (verse 17; Matthew 6:12-15). Paul tells these Romans not to hold grudges against persecutors. In view of the terrible persecution of Christians that will break out in Rome during the next decade, this was uncommonly timely counsel.
Paul's wording of the quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35 in verse 19 differs from both the Septuagint and the extant (Massoretic) Hebrew text, but it is identical with the quotation in Hebrews 10:30. Was there another version of this passage common among the early Christians? The meaning, in any case, is clear enough. Christians are to leave to God all revenge and settling of scores. They are always to pursue good, never evil. Evil is the Christian's only true enemy (verse 21).
Tuesday, February 21
Romans 13:1-14: Beginning with the believer's relationship to other believers, and going on with respect to those outside the community of faith, Paul now addresses the Christian's relationship to the political order (verses 1-7),
One is impressed by Paul's attitude of respect, deference, and obedience toward the civil authority, not simply because that authority carries the power to exact such an attitude, but also because such an attitude is required by conscience (verse 5). To respect and obey the State, in Paul's view, is demanded by God's own ordinance, because ultimately the State hold its authority from God. (Contrast this view with that of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.) The State is "God's minister" (verse 4).
Generally speaking, then, and proper exception being made for laws that violate the moral order, the dictates and decisions of government are binding in conscience. They are not simply penal laws. That is to say, in those instances where the State does not contravene God's own law, the State speaks for God and is a valid channel for the discovery of God's will.
Lest we be too quick to imagine that Paul is thinking of the State in very idealistic terms, we may bear in mind that the emperor at that time was Nero, and the State of Paul's reference was the Roman Empire. This empire had earlier expelled the Jews, including Christians, from Rome only a decade before (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, "Claudius" 25), and about four years after writing this epistle Paul himself would be executed by this same authority. Three years later, moreover, the full weight of the imperial government would come down hard on the Christians at Rome in a fearful persecution. In other words, Paul's attitude toward Rome was not one of convenience, but of principle (cf. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies 5.24.1).
Paul's affirmations here bear witness to an important feature of Christian anthropology. They testify that man's relationship to God is not limited to the specifically religious and cultic sphere. Man is also related to God in the political, social, cultural, and economic spheres of his existence in this world. Man's relationship to God, in other words, is inseparable from his relationship to everything else.
We observe that Paul presumes that Christians pay taxes (verse 6; Matthew 22:21; Tatian Oratio 4; Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum 1.11; 3:14; Epistle to Diognetus 5; Justin Martyr, First Apology 17; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 7.3.18).
Paul returns briefly to the Christian's relationship to the Mosaic Law (verses 8-10). Does Christian freedom imply that believers are no longer bound by the Decalogue? Hardly, says Paul, but the general Christian command to love one's neighbor as oneself more than adequately summarizes those components of the Decalogue that concern our fellow man. That is to say, even the Decalogue is now read through a new lens.
Once again Paul speaks of salvation as reality that lies yet in the future, a future that is now closer than when we first became believers. (verse 11). As we have seen repeatedly, in Romans the vocabulary of salvation is commonly associated with the return of Christ and the general resurrection of the body.
Meanwhile, Christians are to "wake up" to the newness of life in Christ (verses 11-12; 1 Thessalonians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 5:14).
Wednesday, February 22
Romans 14:1-13: Although there is no evidence that the Roman congregation experienced internal controversies about dietary and liturgical customs carried over from Judaism, Paul decided to treat here of a particular pastoral problem attendant on those points, namely, differences of conscientious sensitivity among believers.
This latter concern remains a matter of continued relevance. Whereas Christians long ago lost their lingering attachment to Jewish dietary customs and liturgical observances, they still sometimes find themselves divided, even today, on a variety of other subjects. These include, for instance, drinking alcoholic and using tobacco.
Paul's fundamental principle seems clear enough: Christians are to show to one another that level of respect, kindness, and deference that will free each of them from harsh judgment or ridicule, carping or shock. The guiding virtues to be cultivated in this respect are faith (verses 22-23), charity (verse 15), and the imitation of Christ (verses 9,15; 15:3,7-8).
The prohibition against judging other members of the congregation is especially forceful in this chapter. The verb "to judge," krinein, appears eight times. One recalls the Lord's example of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11.
The "weak" in most congregations will often be the newer members, or even the conscientious inquirers, who are just beginning to find their way in the Christian life (verses 1-5). Particularly sensitive in conscience, frequently such individuals are shocked are disedified by the behavior of other Christians, whom they may perceive as less zealous or even lax. These "weak" Christians are exhorted not to pass judgment on others, and the others, in turn, are exhorted not to ridicule or shock the "weak." On the contrary, they should receive support and encouragement in the difficult early stages of their journey. One recalls here the Lord's warning to those who scandalize the "little ones," those relatively inexperienced Christians who are new in the discernment of good and evil, right and wrong.
The important point is to serve the Lord, to whom we all belong (verses 6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). The example held before us is Christ, who neither lived nor died for Himself, but for us (verse 9).
If our knees are bent in prayer and our voices raised in praise, we will be amply busy and occupied, with neither time nor psychic energy to judge, criticize, or ridicule fellow Christians (verse 12).
Thursday, February 23
Romans 14:14-23: Paul continues the theme from the previous section, going on to exhort believers to peace-making and edification (verse 19). In these verses, however, his exhortation is directed to the stronger, more confident Christians who may, even by mere inadvertence, create crises of conscience for their fellow believers.
The example chosen by Paul to illustrate this point is the eating of certain foods, particularly meats, which the Mosaic Law classifies as common (koinon) or unclean, foods that are not kosher. Paul is certain that Christians may eat such foods with a safe conscience (verses 1-5; Acts 10:9-15).
The Apostle recognized, nonetheless, that some Christians, from habits long adhered to, could not really eat such food with a safe conscience, because they had not arrived at a level of faith and Christian maturity that would enable them to do so. (Here he is not talking about the faith through which a Christian is justified, of course, but of faith as an effective principle in making moral decisions.)
If these latter Christians, then, were recklessly to follow the example of stronger, more mature believers, there was a genuine danger of their violating their own consciences. They would be eating for some reason other than faith, perhaps human respect or perceived social pressure, and this would constitute sin (verse 23). In short, it is never a safe of laudable thing to act against one's conscience.
What should the stronger Christian do in such a case? He should forego his own freedom in the matter, says Paul, in order not to lead the weaker brother into sin, even inadvertently (verses 15,20-23). Peace and charity, that is to say, take precedence over the exercise of freedom (verses 17-18). Freedom, as the result of charity, must never be exercised at the expense of charity.
Moreover, a Christian should relinquish his freedom even in those instances when the exercise thereof would bring distress to another Christian (verse 15). In other words, a Christian must go out of his way, if need be, to avoid distressing fellow believers. The proper motive is love, inspired by the death of Jesus (verse 15).
In all these comments Paul enunciates essentially the same thesis he defended in Galatians 2:11-17, and which will appear later in Colossians 2:20-22 and Mark 7:19.
Friday, February 24
Romans 15:1-13: From dealing with the possible conflicts of conscience among Christians in chapter 14, Paul goes on to enunciate the guiding principle for the resolution of such conflicts, namely, the example of Jesus, and more specifically the example that Jesus demonstrated in His suffering and death (verse 3.)
In other words, the sufferings and death of Jesus, in addition to being the efficient cause of our redemption and reconciliation to God, also provide the exemplary type of the Christian moral life (verse 7). Some years earlier Paul had made such a case when treating of congregational problems in Macedonia (Philippians 2:5-10).
The Christian's moral life, then, is not merely personal and private. It is social (verses 1-2,5-7). Paul knows nothing about personal holiness apart from life and responsibilities in the Church. (For this Christian thesis we may see a pagan adumbration in the traditional Spartan theory of education, in which virtue, ar°te, is invariably social and unselfish.)
The exercise of freedom is never a goal or final purpose in the Christian life; it is, rather, the proper ambience and atmosphere of the Christian life. Freedom for freedom's sake is unknown in the Holy Scriptures. Christian freedom is ever at the service of Christian charity.
Divine charity was the motive of Jesus' assumption of our sins in His self-offering upon the cross (verse 3; 8:32-35). In support of this thesis Paul invokes the authority of Psalms 69 (68):10, a verse descriptive (as is the whole psalm) of Jesus' sufferings.
Then, having appealed to the Old Testament in order to throw light on a specific Christian theme, Paul enunciates the principle on which such an appeal is based, namely, the Christocentricity of the Hebrew Scriptures. Since the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, and thereby finds its full doctrinal meaning in Christ, its proper moral application is in the lives of Christians (verse 4). This application is what Christian theology calls the moral or tropological sense of Holy Scripture (cf. P. H. Reardon, "Scripture Saturation," Christian History 22/4 [Winter 2003-04], pp. 30-34).
Finally, the joining of the Gentiles with the Jews is not only a doctrinal fact (verses 8-12), it is a principle of moral behavior for those so joined (verses 7,13).
We observe that the imitation of Jesus is a basic behavior pattern throughout this section, as in the whole New Testament (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Mark 8:34; 1 Peter 2:21; John 13:15).
Copyright © 2004 by the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.
Home - FSJ - Mere Comments - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us