“Well, I suwannee!” I remember saying that when I was in seminary in Boston, and the reaction from folks not from the South was, let’s just say, interesting. “What does THAT mean?” was the common question. I confess I took pleasure in pouring on the Southernisms in Boston to the point that one, sincere, young man asked me if there was a book he could buy that had all this information in one place so he could learn! Of course, I took him “grit hunting” that night!
It’s fun and, frankly, necessary to explore the meaning of words and phrases in language. There are always treasures to be found in a serious commitment to embrace and understand the iconic power of words. No wonder the Bible itself begins with God Himself using the Word to create. Words matter.
Look at our lesson today in Romans 4:4-12 and let’s consider the word “reckon”:
Brethren, to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.” Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
St. Paul continues his wisdom to the Roman Church; a church that contained both Jewish converts to the Faith and Gentile converts as well. The influence that the “older brothers” of the Jewish Faith exerted on the Roman Church was, naturally, strong. After all, Jesus is the Messiah promised by the Jewish scriptures. His whole family were pious followers of the Jewish Faith. All of the early converts to the Faith in the Messiah were from the Jewish people. But, then things spread beyond the Jews to everyone else!
And Paul wants to be clear about an important topic of controversy of his day; does this Faith in the Realized Messiah mean that non-Jews have to obey all the old Jewish laws to be Christians too? St. Paul says “No.”
Paul uses the central Jewish practice of circumcision as his example. And, in doing so, he reinforces a deep and timeless truth that God “reckons” us righteous based on our love for Him, even if our actions still show we are struggling to “walk right.” Paul reminds those who would insist on Gentiles following this Jewish ritual of marking the men of the Jews as followers of the Faith of Abraham and the Prophets that Abraham was given circumcision AFTER God called him (reckoned him) righteous.The OUTWARD sign was a reflection of an INWARD reality.
But that was always God’s plan. All the way back in the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah, God tells His People “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33). So, Paul isn’t saying anything new at all!
What he is saying is that it’s time for the outward signs of Faith to be equalled by inner love for God. You are “reckoned” righteous by God based on His Love for you in Christ and you show that you’ve embraced this “reckoning” by responding with a life of gratitude towards God in piety and service!
Today, do your words match your actions? Are you willing to embrace the truth that God reaches for you FIRST, and your grateful response to His love is both internal AND external? Take God at His Word and be Orthodox on Purpose!
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