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First in Privilege and Responsibility
Reflecting on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 8
Old Testament: Exodus 1:1-7
Epistle: Romans 2:1-11
Psalter: Psalm 18:1-3, 20-32
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 7:3-13
Epistle: Romans 2:1-11
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others, for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth. Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life, while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but injustice, there will be wrath and fury. There will be affliction and distress for everyone who does evil, both the Jew first and the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, both the Jew first and the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Romans 2:1-11).
Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals that something of a competition, a one-upmanship was taking place between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the imperial city. Jewish Christians want to retain pride of place as being the first to receive the good news of Jesus and being the people for whom the work of salvation is accomplished. The Gentiles, on the other hand want to remind their Jewish sisters and brothers that most of Israel has not believed in Jesus, thereby jeopardizing their primacy of place. Later in the letter Paul will have some direct words to the Gentile believers about that mistaken assertion, but here in chapter 2 he starts first with his fellow Jews. He reminds them that while they may be first in the blessings for those who believe, they will also be the first in condemnation for their disobedience to the covenant. Paul says in verses 9-10,
There will be affliction and distress for everyone who does evil, both the Jew first and the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, both the Jew first and the Greek.
Privilege and responsibility always go together. Those who embrace their privilege without the responsibility that privilege brings reject the blessings God has given to them. We are blessed to be a blessing. The Jewish Christians in Rome must realize that their privilege does not give them a special status over the Gentile believers while the Gentile believers will be told later on not to become haughty in their faith, believing that somehow they have replaced Israel because of its lack of belief.
God shows no partiality. If anyone is first, it is only first in receiving the good news and therefore first in the responsibility to proclaim it. Jesus says that the one to whom much is given, much is required.
Humility is central to embracing the promises and responsibilities of the gospel. There is no room for pride over others.
PRAYER: As you heard the prayer of Isaac and Rebekah, O God, and guided them in the way of your love, so listen now to those who call upon you. Move us to praise your gracious will, for in Christ Jesus you have saved us from the deeds of death and opened for us the hidden ways of your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary)
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