Wednesday of week 28 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 2:1-11

Paul now turns his attention to his fellow-Jews, although he does not mention them by name. In this section Paul sets forth principles that govern God’s judgment.  God judges (1) according to truth, (2) according to deeds, and (3) according to the light a person has. “No matter who you are, if you pass judgement you have no excuse.  You condemn yourself when you condemn others, because you are behaving in the same way as those you are condemning.”  Paul himself is aware, as he condemns others, that he is condemning himself if he behaves in the way they do.  “We are well aware that people who behave like that are justly condemned by God.” Nothing can take the place of personal virtue: not the Law, not circumcision, not even the Scriptures.  The Jew and the Gentile will be judged individually by God, since all are equally liable to sin.  His teaching about judging is the same as that of Jesus, who did not condemn judging as such but hypocritical judging or doing so behind people’s backs in a condemnatory way. Paul’s warning had had special relevance for Jews, who were inclined to look down on Gentiles because of their ignorance of God’s revelation in the Old Testament and because of their immoral lives.  In fact, as we Christians need also to remember, greater knowledge brings greater responsibility and liability. “When you judge those who behave in this way while doing the same thing yourselves, do you think you can escape God’s condemnation?”  Jesus also had said, “Do not judge and you will not be judged” and spoke about seeing the speck of dust in a brother’s eye while ignoring the large piece of wood in one’s own.  (Isn’t it like that most of the time with us too?) Instead, Paul says they if they were more aware of God’s “abundant goodness, tolerance and patience” with them it would rather lead them to ask forgiveness for their own sins.  The Jews sometimes had misconstrued God’s patience to be a lack of intent to pass judgement.  Their refusal to repent of their own sins is only piling up punishment for themselves on the “Day of Retribution”, when God’s just verdict will be given. For “he will repay everyone as their deeds deserve.”  On this sentence the Jerusalem Bible expands:

The prophecy of ‘a day of Yahweh’ which will be a day of anger and salvation, will be fulfilled eschatologically in the ‘day of the Lord’ when Christ returns in glory.  On this ‘day of judgment’ the dead man will rise again and the whole human race will be judged in God’s court and in Christ’s.  This trial is inescapable and impartial; it is conducted by God.  Through Christ God will judge ‘the living and the dead’.  He examines the heart and his trial is by fire; he will treat everyone according to his works.  What has sown will be reaped.  Angrily he will destroy evil powers and evil people.  But for the chosen, i.e. those who have been good, there will be freedom, rest, reward, salvation, honour, praise, and glory. (Jerusalem Bible, text references omitted)

Therefore, “for those who aimed for glory and honour and immortality by persevering in doing good, there will be eternal life but for those who out of jealousy have taken for their guide not truth but injustice, there will be the fury of retribution.”  This “doing good”, of course, presumes that all we do is done with the power of God in us.  There is nothing we can do by ourselves to “earn” salvation.  Our good actions are the result of our saying ‘Yes’ to God in faith. On the other hand, “trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil – Jews first, but Greeks as well”.  With spiritual privilege and insight comes greater spiritual responsibility.  Similarly, “glory and honour and peace will come to everyone who does good – Jews first, but Greeks as well”. In short, “there is no favouritism with God”. These words are both a consolation and a warning to us also.  A warning because, as Christians, we cannot expect to get special treatment when we misbehave.  On the contrary, given all the helps we have received and continue to receive, even more is expected of us.  (We remember what happened to the man who hid his ‘talent’ in the ground.)  A consolation because we know that God treats every single person with absolute impartiality and justice.  He reaches out exactly the same love to every single person. We also know that he is a God rich in compassion and slow to anger.  As a first step, it is important then for us to have some of that quality in ourselves and be less hasty in passing judgment on others, especially “outsiders”.

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