By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from Romans 2:12-24
12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Several years ago, I took a course in mediation, at the core of which is impartiality, a skill that is difficult to master. Perhaps that is why only God is capable of exercising it. Some ancient rabbis taught that God showed partiality toward his people. They said: “God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another.”
However, Paul’s words in these passages stand as a strong corrective to this notion, as all stand under the judgment of the law, be they Jews or Gentiles. The Jew may think that she is saved because she has the law; but has she kept it? The Gentile may think that he is saved because he does not have the law, but has he obeyed the dictates of his conscience?
Regardless of whether or not people have God’s law, they may still be condemned in their sin; judgment can come with or without the law. Paul argues that people are condemned not for what they don’t know, but for what they do with what they know. He explained to some boastful Israelites among his flock that they needed to teach themselves, not others, by the law. He warned them of knowing the law so well that they excuse themselves of their own actions (vv. 17-24). If religious people do not respect their own laws the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.
These verses are a scathing indictment against hypocrisy and boasting of one’s faith practices. The Scriptures tell us that God is no respecter of persons. What lies in our hearts and consciences will be laid bare on the day when God will judge all secrets with impartiality.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Today we pray for:
The Missionary Diocese of Asaba (Church of Nigeria)
The Diocese of Northern Indiana