Rats in the Cellar

By David Baumann

A Reading from Romans 1:28-2:11

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to an unfit mind and to do things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of injustice, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

1 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. 2 We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth. 3 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? 4 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? 5 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. 6 He will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life, 8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but injustice, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be affliction and distress for everyone who does evil, both the Jew first and the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, both the Jew first and the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Meditation

If yesterday’s reading stirred some discomfort with its clarion denunciation of the wicked and ungodly, that discomfort is doubtless aggravated as we enter today’s reading. The end of chapter one is comprised of a long, head-spinning list of wickedness. Note that the introduction to this list is the statement that God “gave them up” to such debasement, because they did not see fit to acknowledge him. Giving them up of course does not mean letting them get away with it; it means allowing them to continue in the way they choose stubbornly to follow, and therefore, to suffer the consequences.

If we are stunned at the intensity of these last verses in chapter one, we are caught up short when, at the beginning of chapter two, we find ourselves equally condemned — that is, if we pass judgment on these others. We slip almost unnoticed from a description of the wicked and ungodly to a denunciation of those who judge them. Paul’s focus moves from a description of third parties to those who are reading his letter — from “them” to “us.” In the core of this passionate teaching is the breathtaking line, “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

At the end of this selection there is a sharp contrast between those who are “patiently doing good” and those who are “self-seeking.” It is a sharp wake-up call to the faithful to realize that ungodliness and wickedness can and do still reside in us. C.S. Lewis described it as “rats in our cellar.” Humility and truth-seeking as outworkings of saving faith lead us onward as we “seek for glory and honor and immortality,” which is what Paul commends.

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

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Today we pray for:

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.
The Diocese of Mahajanga – The Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean

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