Performance not Privilege – Wednesday, 28th Week in ordinary time – Romans 2:1-11

Performance not Privilege – Wednesday, 28th Week in ordinary time – Romans 2:1-11

We know that St Paul did not found the Church in Rome. Hence in writing to them he is eager to complete his mission of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles and where better to do it than in Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire. In this letter to the Romans Paul makes a great point, namely that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16). The whole purpose of the letter is to explain that all of us, both Jews and Gentiles, are guilty before God owing to sin, and that the only escape is through the free gift of God in the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ.

Chapter two begins with the word ‘therefore’. This word indicates that something is being concluded before something else is being communicated. In the last chapter Paul painted a picture of the deplorable condition of the Gentiles. Clearly in 1:20 he states that the Gentiles are “without excuse” for “though they knew God they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him but they became futile in their thinking. Therefore God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity.” After his general indictment of the Gentiles, Paul shows that in spite of special revelations, the Jews enjoy no advantage in moral status before God over the Gentiles(Rom 3:1–8).

While writing his thoughts on the matter, St Paul also anticipated a whole class of people who would say “amen” to what he had said about the Gentiles in chapter two. Perhaps some of the Jewish Christians in Rome and even perhaps some of us in our homes today must be thinking, ‘how right Paul is; how terrible the world outside the Church has become, how deluded people are, perhaps even how deluded some of us used to be, before we followed Christ.’ But in saying this we also mean how righteous we are as compared to others. We wish to be set apart from the others because we believe that we are the moralist who have kept God’s word to the tee.

So, in writing this text Paul imagined how the Jewish Christians in the Church must have reacted to his statements about the foolishness of pagan religion. Such thoughts would give rise to the justification that God would be right to bring down the fire of his judgement on these people. The Jewish Christians were judging the Gentiles as though they themselves were without sin and very different themselves. That’s so often the way we judge others isn’t it? We then become self-righteous moralists like the Jewish Christians in Rome. So, Paul warns them and warns us, that when they or we pass judgement on others, we all are in great danger because the judgement is likely to apply equally to all.

The Jewish Christian and by extension all of us, are inexcusable when we judges the ‘heathen’ for sin but are blind to our own sin. We condemn ourselves when we condemn others. As a first step in his demonstration that Jews enjoy no real moral supremacy over Gentiles, Paul explains that the final judgment will be a review of performance, not of privilege. From this perspective Gentiles stand on an equal footing with Jews, and Jews cannot condemn the sins of Gentiles without condemning themselves.

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