Doing the Law

By David Baumann

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 in accordance with the law. 13 For 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. 14 When gentiles, who do not possess the law, by nature do what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, as their own conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God through Christ Jesus judges 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 18 and know his will and determine what really matters because you are instructed in the law, 19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21 you, then, who teach others, will you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by your transgression of the law? 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.”

Meditation

After having pulled no punches in describing the wicked and ungodly, Paul moves his focus to what it means to know and follow God. He’s already acknowledged the difference between Jews and Gentiles several times — as God’s special family, Jews are first to have the gospel preached to them and are the first to be judged if they fail to please God. Now, Paul contrasts those who “have the law” and those who don’t have it — the law being God’s revelation to the Jews. He moves to a profound insight into what is pleasing to God by asserting that it is those who “do the law” who are justified, whether they are aware of the law (Jews) or not (Gentiles). Paul goes on to affirm that the law is “the embodiment of knowledge and truth.” Now also those Gentiles who are brought into God’s family by faith — the same faith that Abraham showed before the law existed! — are given the gift of knowing God’s will and his truth, too.

Those who “know his will,” whether Jew or Gentile, now have a responsibility to be “a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,” and so forth. But knowing the will of God is not enough: “You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” Well, the answer for us is “yes” — a humble, sorrowful, but truthful yes. Hopefully not always, not habitually, certainly, we hope,  not hypocritically, but because we are fallen humans, yes. Redeemed we may be, but we’re not without sin. And isn’t that where Paul is leading us in this letter, to a greater awe of God’s work, a greater humility in ourselves?

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:

The Diocese of Maiduguri – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
Grace Church, New York, N.Y.

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