Friday of Week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 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, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

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:

…may be acceptable, sanctified 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:

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work 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:

For I will not be so bold as to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit…

Some of these ‘signs and wonders’ are described in Acts of the Apostles. Paul was not the only evangelist and there were, of course, all those who consolidated the work which he began in each place.

His evangelising 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.  Illyricum 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 of Christ” 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 make it my ambition to proclaim the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation…

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:

…for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
(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:

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? (Rom 10:14)

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. As well, 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.

Two questions we might ask are: 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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