Friday of week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 15:14-21

We begin today the reading of the epilogue to Paul’s rather long letter.  As he comes to the end of his message he makes some general remarks about issues touching on his evangelising work.

He begins by saying that he is sure they will understand the reason for his writing to them even though the Roman church is not one founded by him and even though they are “full of goodness, fully instructed and capable of correcting each other”.   But he wants to refresh their memories on a few points.  Does this mean that he had written to them earlier or that he is just referring to general points of Christian teaching known to all?

He reminds them that he had been given a special grace to proclaim the Gospel of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, so that they could become “an acceptable offering, made holy by the Holy Spirit”.  He always sees this as his special calling.  He sees this apostolic calling almost as a liturgical function in which the offerings are those people whom he has brought to Christ and offers to God.  Paul’s priestly function differed from that of the levitical priesthood which involved sacrifices in the Temple.  Paul’s apostolate was to bring Gentiles into the Christian family through preaching the Gospel and making the Gentile churches an offering in Christ to God.

He then reminds the Romans of what he has achieved, “so I can be proud, in Christ Jesus, of what I have done for God”.   He is not bragging for he knows that all he has done has been done through the power of Christ working in and through him.  And he only speaks of his own personal achievements.  “I can dare to speak only of the things which Christ has done through me to win the allegiance of the Gentiles, using what I have said and done, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God”.   Some of these ‘signs and wonders’ are described in the Acts of the Apostles.

He was not the only evangelist and there were, of course, all those who consolidated the work which he began in each place.

And his evangelising has extended all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum – these were the two extremes of his missionary journeys at the time of writing this Letter.  Jerusalem was the home of the mother church and from where the preaching of the Gospel originated.  It is not certain whether he actually entered Illyricum because there is no mention in the Acts of Paul being there.  It was at this time a Roman province, north of Macedonia (where Paul certainly had gone) in what is now Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

In saying that he has “fully proclaimed the Gospel” in the eastern Mediterranean does not mean that evangelising work has been completed but only that he has fulfilled his personal mandate which will, of course, have to be continued by the new Christians resident in each place.

He mentions another principle which he strictly observed.  He only preached the Gospel in places where it had not been already preached.  “I do not build on another’s foundations.”  We know that there were other evangelisers and they are mentioned by Paul in his letters.  Paul was guided by a saying from the prophet Isaiah:

Those who have never been told about him will see him,

and those who have never heard about him will understand (Is 52:15).

It is something that we might seriously reflect on in our own Church and in our own parishes today.  We would have to admit that a great deal, if not nearly all, of our pastoral energies are directed at the already converted.  Yet there are growing numbers of people even in so-called “Catholic” countries who have never heard the Gospel proclaimed.  And, as Paul says earlier in this Letter, “How can they believe if they have never had the message spoken to them?”

We too could reflect profitably on some of Paul’s words in today’s reading:

– We too have been called to be evangelists, to share the Gospel message with others.

– Whatever we accomplish in bringing others to Christ will be his work and not ours alone.  Yet we may be the necessary instruments he needs to use.

– There are places and people which will never hear the Gospel message unless we speak and act. It may even be in our home, in our working place or with our friends.  Let us not deprive them of this grace which could transform their lives.

A question we might ask is: How many adults are baptised in our parish every year?  How many ‘lapsed’ members have been brought back in the past year?

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