Father John on Romans 4:13-25

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

If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null, and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) – in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 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), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore, his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

(Romans 4:13-25)

Hi everyone. My name is Father John Ashfield, and I’m messaging you actually from Rome, although I’m an English priest living in the Netherlands as a member of the Community of St. John. I believe you knew the late father Elias – a good friend of mine. May he rest in peace.

Father Dave was very kind to invite me, to say a few words about the passage from the letter to the Romans, which you’ll have read already, I think. And here are just some reflections about that which came to mind as I was looking at it.

I think this whole chapter, this whole beginning lead to the Romans, is trying to help us to understand that living our faith is one thing, and living by the law is another. And perhaps we could come to the conclusion that one is meant to help the other, but that faith is what leads to salvation and not the law.

I think it’s a confusion which Jesus touches upon as well when he says, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees”. And I was wondering what that meant – the leaven or the yeast, sorry – of the Pharisees and, well it’s funny. I’m here in Rome, and in Italy they have this bread which is kind of hollow, and I thought maybe that’s what Christ was talking about, about how some yeast can cause the bread to literally puff up – to rise up and to look good from the outside – but be hollow on the inside.

Apparently, that’s what happens to bread. Like Germans here in Europe. Germans complain about French bread because they say it’s got too much yeast. It’s all puffy and light and airy, and it leaves you hungry about an hour after you’ve eaten it. Whereas German bread is solid and heavy and consistent. So, I think, yeah, maybe this yeast thing has something to do with what causes us to grow.

Jesus uses the example of yeast in the parables in Matthew, chapter 13, when he said grace or the gift of grace, the gift of the word of God, the kingdom. What causes us to grow into the kingdom, to become citizens of God, citizens of heaven, can be compared to yeast that is put into flower and causes it to completely transform – to completely, to rise and to become bread, and he warns that the Pharisees have another kind of yeast, which perhaps could be.

Perhaps the reason why he’s saying that is because he’s saying a kind of thing that makes you look like you’ve grown into a Christian, into someone who acts in a Christian way, but on the inside it’s fake. That would certainly rhyme with a lot of his criticism of the Pharisees in the gospel – growing your faith in a way which looks good from the outside, but on the inside is empty.

I think this is what we’re talking about here with the law and the faith. St. Paul seems to be pointing out that a lot of Jews and Christians seem to be seeing practicing the law, or attempting to practice the law as the proof that you’ve achieved salvation, as the goal of the work of grace in our life, and he’s pointing out that the goal of the work of grace in our life is not to get us to practice the law in a way which is perfect. In fact, that that’s impossible.

That perfection in action, perfection in acts, perfection in what we do or perfection in how we live is impossible, but the faith, believing in God, believing in salvation, believing that the Lord saves us, especially when we fall, that’s what makes us justified or upright, depending on your translation.

So, faith in God, especially at the moment when we fall and fail in the law – that’s what saves us. And then you see the law in a different way. The law can be seen as something which leads you to a clearer understanding of where you’re failing. I think that’s the usefulness of the 10 Commandments of the law – of any law. It serves to show you where you are crossing over the line, where you are leaving the presence of God, where you are sinning, where you’re going against the law of God and therefore where you’re in need of salvation. But at that point, you need to believe.

So, yeah, a law in general, I mean from ethical laws to political laws, to religious laws, to divine laws, to laws of physics – it points out what is necessary, right? I think it underlines and emphasizes the boundaries of what is necessary, the boundaries of reality, the boundaries of what is real, and the other side of that boundary lies the fake, lies the untrue, lies the lie, lies the unjust action and so forth, lies the contradiction.

So, I think that’s what the law does. It sets out the boundary for us, and we’re crossing that boundary when we sin, when we fall, when we make mistakes. We cross it sometimes through ignorance and with little fault of our own, and at that point, so we’re kind of doomed to do that in a certain way by our damaged nature, but at that point, we have the faith – the faith which leads us to an interior perfection, and a salvation.

Just a few reflections there. Wish you a very blessed Sunday and a good preparation for Easter.

First broadcast on The Sunday Eucharist on February 25, 2024

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