Saturday of Week 28 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 4:13, 16-18

Paul continues speaking of Abraham as a model of faith and trust. The promise God made to Abraham:

…that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

This promise was made for the simple reason that the Law had not yet come into existence.  It was based on the “righteousness” 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.  God promises that he:

…will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. (Gen 13:16)

And Abraham is promised 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, in order that it may rest on 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:

…may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law [the Jews], but also to those who share the faith of Abraham [all believing Gentiles]

And so as far as God is concerned, Abraham is the “father of many nations”, 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 the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

Notice he refers to not just of a ‘single’ nation – the Jews (though, 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.

Paul says of Abraham:

God in whom he believed…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

This is a reference to the birth of Isaac through Abraham and Sarah, though as Paul will subsequently say of Abraham:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), and the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. (Romans 4:19)

He is also the God who 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 would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So shall your descendants be”.

In situations which seemed absolutely to rule out their fulfilment, Abraham believed that God would give him the descendants promised to him (see 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.  As they say, we need to “let go and let God”.

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