First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Lent 3

William Loader

Lent 3:  19 March  Romans 5:1-11

Paul has asserted that God can do the impossible: save the Gentile sinner! Just as God created something out of nothing, gave Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age and raised Christ from the dead. Gentile sinners are on the same footing as Abraham, because Abraham is the primary model of a believing response to God's goodness. That constituted his rightness just as it does for Gentiles and for all.

So 5:1 returns to the theme of being right with God on that basis. Peace with God is the result of "justification", being set back into a right relationship with God. In fact peace is what that relationship means. 4:2 continues the focus on the relationship as it talks about access.

But Paul is never far away from dealing with the objections of his critics. One of them is that he is unimpressive and has too many adversities to be able to claim a victorious life with God. Paul meets this objection by turning the complaint upside down. He glories in the fact of suffering. It is the shape of Christ's life and for Paul Christ's life gives shape to ours. His is not a spirituality which guarantees happiness. The peace of which he speaks means something quite different from the absence of conflict. Paul's point of reference is the cross. There he sees God revealed. There he also sees humanity revealed: love poured out.

So in 5:3-5 he celebrates the fact that life is hard on the path of discipleship, turning their disqualification into his greatest qualification. Paul sees beyond suffering to hope and that keeps him going. But it is not a hope focused on personal relief and reward, as though salvation is about his future happiness. Rather 5:5 brings us back to what counts: the love which comes from God has flooded into our lives, to flow out through us to others. The love which is the foundation of being set right with God flows onward and outward seeking to bring wholeness (peace) to all. Paul's spirituality sees love as the fruit of the Spirit. The sign of the Spirit is not great escapes, but great love. And the sign of that love is the cross. That is the story that carries the hope of resurrection in its fulfilment, because such loving participates in the life of God.

Paul returns again to love in 5:6-11 because it is the essential message of the gospel. Once again he uses various images. This is love not just for one's friends, but for people who have been written off as of no value (5:6-7), people who might be seen to warrant God's stern anger (5:9). Paul sees God displaying this love in Christ (5:8). It is there for all. Paul is outflanking his opponents by focusing on God's being. He is doing theology on the basis of central insights against a theology which worries about texts and stipulations. We cease to be enemies of God because of who God is (5:10). This is Paul's confidence and boast (5:11). So he is not ashamed of this gospel (1:16) and his hope will not make him ashamed either (5:5) because it is based on the very being and nature of God demonstrated in Christ.

Reconciliation (5:10-11) is a very accessible image. We can relate to it much more easily than to images of redemption from slavery or acts of atonement with blood. Reconciliation does not mean Jesus paid God off so that God's honour was intact, reconciling God to us - as though God needed the therapy or needed to be satisfied (as though what sates God is not love but self-love). Rather God was doing the reconciling. God was establishing the peace (5:1). God's goodness is marked not by absence of wrongdoing in some kind of sterile purity, but by the fact that God keeps on loving, keeps on confronting Israel with that love, and reaches out even to sinners and Gentiles. It is a goodness marked by generosity and truth, calling for us to let ourselves be seen as we are (for some this is too much to take) and be forgiven, affirmed, and engaged in that same dynamic goodness through the Spirit.

Gospel: Lent 3: 19 March John 4:5-42

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