Saturday of week 28 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 4:13, 16-18

Paul continues speaking of Abraham as a model of faith and trust.

The promise made to Abraham by God that “he and his descendants should inherit the world was not through the Law”.  For the simple reason that the Law had not yet come into existence.  It was based on the “justice” of Abraham, that is, his becoming “right” with God through his total faith and trust in the promises that had been made to him.  Through his faith he was in perfect harmony and union with God.

Abraham and his descendants inheriting the “world” refers to the whole of creation.  Actually, no express mention of this inheriting is made in the Genesis account of Abraham.  He is promised “offspring like the dust of the earth” and possession of the land of Canaan, and that all the peoples on earth would be blessed through him or his offspring.  But since, as Genesis already makes clear, God purposed through Abraham and his offspring to work out the destiny of the whole world, it was implicit in the promises to Abraham that he and his offspring would “inherit the earth”.  The full realisation of this awaits the perfection of the Kingdom when Christ returns to take all things to himself.

All that we receive “depends on faith, everything is a grace”.  Here we have the combination of the two interlocking key words in this Letter.  All that we have is “grace”, all is total gift.  Nothing we have is truly our own.  But access to that grace is the openness of faith and trust – which, paradoxically, is itself a gift. Further, says Paul, the promises made to Abraham hold true for all his descendants without exception, not only for those who have the Law (the Jews) but for all who have the faith  of Abraham, who lived in faith but outside the Law (hence, all believing Gentiles).

And so as far as God is concerned, Abraham is the “father of us all”, Jews and Gentiles alike, no matter how others (especially the Jews) may see him.  As God says of Abraham in Genesis (17:5): “I have made you father of many nations” – and not just of one.  (The real ancestor of the Jews is Jacob, also called Israel.) Abraham is, as the First Eucharistic Prayer says, “our father in faith”: in the double sense that he is the first of all those who come to God through faith and trust and the model and example for all to follow.

He is the God who brings the dead to life – a reference to the birth of Isaac through Abraham and Sarah.  (Just below Paul says, though Abraham “was as good as dead – he was 100 years old – and Sarah’s womb was dead too, it did not shake his faith”.)  He is also the God who also calls into existence what does not yet exist, as at the creation.  These two reminders of God’s power prepare the reader/listener for the reference to Christ’s resurrection a little later on.

Lastly, in a marvellous phrase, Paul says that “hoping against hope, Abraham believed” that he was to become the father of many nations.  In situations which seemed absolutely to rule out their fulfilment, Abraham believed that God would give him the descendants promised to him (Gen 15:5). We too need this kind of faith.  Not just the faith that accepts dogmas as true but the faith that helps us to surrender totally into the arms of our God and let him take us to himself.  To let go and let God, as they say.

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